The following is the true story of the only catch of my high school football career.
I had noticed, on the previous couple of plays, that the cornerback covering me was paying me essentially no mind. It was hard to blame him. I was a 14-year old stringbean with average speed, hardly the second coming of Jerry Rice. And besides, we were just ramming it into the line on every play, grinding out 2 to 3 yards at a time as the clock continued it’s inexorable descent down to triple zeros.
Dyke, our strapping Senior QB, was slowly ambling back to the huddle to call the next play, which was certain to be another “32”, the fullback merely following the guard before being swallowed by a mass of bodies.
I had different ideas. “Hey Dyke,” I screeched out in my scratchy teen voice.
“Yeah,” he sneered back nasally, with a tinge of disdain he tacked on when he spoke to people below him, such as freshmen.
“Dude, that cornerback isn’t even covering me. I mean, I’m wide open over there. We could easily score.”
Dyke looked at me blankly, unsure of how to handle my request. He had been given specific instructions from the sidelines and our coach, Mr. Bynum, was a military veteran who equated deviations from the game plan with high treason.
But Dyke was a competitor, and if there was an opportunity to score, he wanted to make the most of it. He leaned down, his facemask close to mine. “OK, but if I throw this ball, you better fucking catch it, or Mr. Bynum will have both of our asses.”
He meant it figuratively, but it is worth noting that Mr. Bynum was one of those old school disciplinarian types who had a paddle in his office he used on wayward teens until that kind of shit was made illegal. He was big and round and presumably tough, though beating teens with paddles, in hindsight, isn’t as much of an indication of toughness as it seemed at the time.
Regardless, when Mr. Bynum sent in “32” as the playcall, the god damn football got tucked into the fullback’s belly, no questions asked.
Dyke got back to the huddle, and I took my normal position on the back line, far right. Dyke faced the two lines, 5 men each, who were looking back exhausted after a long afternoon of getting their asses kicked in this silly sport of mutual destruction.
“Ok, guys, on this one, I’m going to fake the handoff to Douglas, and Jamie”-they called me Jamie then- “is going to run a fly.” The team looked a bit perplexed. I had zero catches on the season, and my primary role on the team was getting mocked by the upper classmen in the locker room after practice. If the game scorecard had been honest, my position would have read not Wide Receiver but Whipping Post.
“On two. OK, ready-“
“Break,” answered the other ten players. I started to run over to my position on the right side, but Dyke grabbed my green mesh jersey.
“You better fucking catch the ball.”
I gulped, throat too dry to speak, and nodded. Dyke was 6’3”, strong as an ox, and headed to the Virginia Military Academy after this, his senior year. If I dropped the ball, my best bet was to keep running until I reached the woods at the far end of the field, and then continue running.
I lined up, even with the ball, turning to face the ref to make sure I was on the line of scrimmage. I didn’t want any silly penalty sullying my moment of impending glory.
The cornerback facing me, also a freshman who had been put on the field as an afterthought, had his hands on his hips as the ball was snapped.
Bad strategy, bro. I took off out of my stance and streaked down the field, blowing past the cornerback with my 5.5 speed. He stood dumbfounded, realizing with horror that the handoff to the fullback had been a fake. Quickly he turned and tried to make up lost ground, but I was a full step past him and blazing down the sidelines like a gazelle, albeit a severely wounded one with only three legs.
Dyke dropped back, and as the home crowd gasped, launched the ball up into the air and in my direction. It has been nearly 25 years, but I can still see that sphere up in the air, wobbling its way towards me. It was not a perfect pass, and I had to wait for it to arrive. It did, thud, hitting my hands and was quickly harnessed into my chest. The cornerback jumped on my back, but this was my moment of glory and nothing was going to keep me out of that end zone, now about 25 yards away. I brought my head down and twisted my torso, and he slid off me like water off a ducks back.
I wasn’t home free yet, though. As the home crowd screamed, the safety headed my way, catching me at about the 8. But at this point, so much adrenaline was rushing through my body I could have run through a dump truck, much less a 140 pound backup safety. He dove for me, but I stiff armed him and he flew back into my past, an actor whose only role in my life was to play “vanquished defensive back” in the scene of my greatest triumph.
As I crossed the goal line, the clock ticked down to zero. The game had ended on a spectacular play, and the glory was mine. I turned and looked at the home crowd, cheering madly as if we had just won the Super Bowl. I wanted to spike the ball and do a dance I had worked on in my bedroom, but that kind of thing was frowned upon by Mr. Bynum, so I just dropped the ball on the ground. Our big, burly bear of a center, Ken, ran towards me, screaming maniacally, then lifted me up into the air. As he let me down, my teammates started to smack my shoulder pads and helmet. Dyke came running over, and as I ran towards the sideline so that our kicker could add the exclamation point, he smacked me on the ass and said, “Nice catch, Jamie.” It felt pretty damn good, hearing that from a senior.
Mr. Bynum had a smirk on his face, glaring at me bemusedly. He couldn’t admit that it was a great play, since he hadn’t called it, but he couldn’t help but be pleased with the outcome.
“What a play!” someone screamed from the army of people cheering on the sidelines.
“You did it, man! You did it!” screamed another.
He was right. I had done it. Thanks to my guts, thanks to my catch, thanks to my glorious romp into the end zone…we only lost by a score of 39-7.
One thought on “The Lone Reception”
That was classic. Having spent a few years at your alma mater and knowing the infamous Mr. Bynum… not to mention playing football there for the first time in my life (and equally poorly) made this all the funnier.