When Smalley was a 135-pound center

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Initiation, game face and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I’m betting a dozen of my size 16 Purple Haze flies that those words have never appeared in the same sentence in the Hungry Horse News.

What triggered this spot in my hippocampus is the recent announcement that the Mormon Tabernacle is changing its name. So be it.

When I was a freshman in high school, I played the center position. The night before the first varsity football game, the senior center was caught stealing beer at a local golf course.

The head coach called a meeting and informed the rest of the team that I would be the center, all 135 pounds.

I got the nod because we ran the “short punt” offense where the quarterback lines up behind a guard, and there are two halfbacks called “spin backs.”

The snap had to be placed on the spin backs’ inside knee, who spun quickly, then handed off, passed, or ran forward.

I could snap the football pretty well. As an eighth-grader I actually helped the varsity centers.

Chuck, one of the spin backs, told me to stay out of his way or he would put metal cleat marks on my back. Which he did!

Since I was now a varsity player, some of the upperclassmen invited me to a pre-game dinner a few hours before the game. They would pay!

No way could I turn down an order from a senior tackle who weighed over twice as much as me and had a decal on his helmet that said, “Diesel!”

Burgers, fries, onion rings, milk shakes, pie.

A couple hours later, when we were warming up, I was in a corn field barfing and they were all laughing! Welcome to the varsity, rookie!

After that game, my mom always prepared a good pre-game meal at home, while I sat by myself next to the phonograph, listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Over and over again. And over again.

My mom learned I wanted quiet when I ate. When I drove my ‘53 Plymouth to the high school, I never drove faster than 5 mph!

By the time I tightened my shoulder pads, I was all game face!

I’m pretty sure I keep my Purple Haze!

Jerry Smalley’s Fishful Thinking column appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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