by Dave Hanks

The knot inside of me sits very uneasily. A growing lump caused by the production of adrenaline. It supersedes everything: the desire to eat, to move about much, or even to laugh. The tension leaves me feeling limp and weak. This is a feeling that I've had to live with too much lately. In fact I have a hard time remembering many moments during the last few years when my body wasn't under the influence of adrenaline.

It is a fear! What do I fear? It's definitely not bodily harm. I haven't a worry in the world about that. My body is conditioned to a fine point and I could be hit with a crow-bar without sustaining much damage. But the fear is there - real and just as imposing as any I can imagine. It is the fear of shame to my pride, fear of not holding up my end for the good of the team, and the fear of disapproval from the coaches.

Today's game is at home and during the afternoon. These two situations are welcome. A night contest requires a person to stew in his juices for twice as long. When you finally get to the stadium, it seems as though you're in a fantasy land. When under stress, the lights seem to glare and give a dizzy feeling.

My memory fades back to a night game earlier in the season. The lights were blurry and so was our opponent. Their fullback and halfback did a crossing action in their backfield which made their offense very deceptive. Their quarterback might give to one or the other, or keep it himself and roll out. It was very hard to see who had the ball. My assignment was to deliver a blow with my forearm to their tackle's face mask, keep pressure on him from his outside shoulder, and then to be ready to instantaneously slide to the inside if the ball went there. The correct "READ" was very difficult to make and a fraction of a second of indecision would allow them a five yard gain. Our coach wasn't happy with the situation at all. At halftime he screamed at me and slapped me across the head. He didn't have a solution but the cussing was, I guess, supposed to be a general cure-all. However, I was "crushed" and as a result rather ineffective for the rest of the game.

As the next game approached, apprehension filled my entire self. I couldn't face the world. I finally adopted the attitude that I didn't give a damn. I stayed in bed all day, missed the pre-game meal, and only arose in time to get to the stadium to dress. I performed much better that night. Maybe the secret is to never give a damn, but that's not realistic because I very much do care!

Today's game is with the University of Wyoming. They are undefeated and appear to be Gator Bowl-bound, if they can get by us. I'm appreciating this contest because my defensive assignment has been altered. Wyoming operates a single-wing offense, the type that I grew up with in high school. I'm to line up at an angle outside of their end and to "crash", "hell bent for leather", down their line - piling up bodies in the process. Today I don't have to worry about making the correct "READ" but can go directly after the ball.

I finally leave my apartment and slowly stroll down the hill to dress for the game. The air has that wonderful taste of autumn. Golden-brown leaves rustle as I pass under each tree. I note that their colors are the same as today's adversary. The band is playing and the distant music floats on the air. It gives me solace.

The pre-game routine is completed and we take to the field. I pass a close friend and wrestling team-mate who is standing on the sideline. He gives me a knowing smile and I feel a surge of confidence.

We kick-off and the game is underway. On the first play from scrimmage, I line up at my angle and come off the ball as low and as hard as I can. I meet their guard, who is pulling, in their backfield and my momentum knocks him down. Their All-American tailback is right behind him and I'm able to make the tackle for a loss. The next play is "stuffed" on the inside. Third down and long yardage brings up a passing situation. I charge in again as hard as possible to surprise their quarterback and "sack" him for a ten yard loss. They are forced to punt. My apprehensions have vanished - I'm doing well. That overpowering fear is gone and in it's place comes feelings of reckless abandonment and aggression. I know that I'm going to have a great game. Our coach is standing along the sideline and I have the urge to yell: "See what I can do if you'd let me!" I have an overwhelming urge to give him the "finger". I refrain.

The game settles into a real dead-lock and everyone seems to become suddenly motivated. I'm getting in on more tackles today than usual and wish that the coaching staff would permit me to play this way in every game. The opposing defensive tackle has huge arm muscles. They bulge forth from his cut-off jersey sleeves. I am surprised that I can handle him so easily! When we have the ball, I fire out and hit his chest with my head and drive him back. "Why won't they run more plays to this side?" The team could get yardage here on every play if they would.

Halftime arrives. Today the locker room scene is bearable because we have held their offense to minus yardage. However, we need more yardage ourselves. The second half is to feature more passing. Pass blocking technique is much different than blocking for the run. It is not as aggressive. The idea is to mimic the rusher's movement by keeping your body in front of his and repeatedly smack his shoulder pads. If he gets too much depth, you put your helmet on his hip and run him up-field past the pocket the quarterback is operating from.

The third quarter starts and things continue to go well. We are able to give our passer plenty of time and we move the ball down the field for a score but miss the extra point. We have had control of the game for most of the time. However disaster strikes when an errant pass is intercepted by their cornerback. I have a slight angle but he is extremely fast and has too much of a head start. His brown and gold uniform crosses the goal - touchdown! I fully expect a "chewing out" to come later.

Their offense had minimal yardage for the entire game and yet they win 7 to 6. Disgusting! We have been cheated out of our "golden defensive performance". It's most unfair! The victory, rightfully, belonged to us.

After the game our line coach is cussing, kicking lockers, and making a real fuss. I'm despondent - my emotions have run the gauntlet from fear, to exhilaration, and now to letdown. Why can't football be dealt with like wrestling? In that sport, you reap the consequences (for better or worse) for your acts only and not someone else's. I think that I would prefer it that way.

My team-mates are hurrying to the post-game meal but I pass it up and go home to bed. I suddenly feel emotionally drained and out of control. In bed I release it all."Why am I crying?" I can't seem to stop but am grateful that no one else is around to witness the situation!

Finally it's over and I sit and ponder. "What happened to the wonderful game that I used to enjoy so much each autumn?" This is a poor counterfeit. Is my scholarship worth all the stress? I make a vow: "I will never place this type of burden on any young man that I might coach in future years!"