View Full Version : The Glory of the Sandlot

10-01-2008, 03:10 AM
The crisp autumn air, changing leaves, and overcast skies always meant one thing to myself and my friends when I was twelve... Sandlot Football. On weekends when we weren't working the jobs today's youth aren't allowed to work, such as paper boy, dishwasher, or laborer at your father's farm, and the school week was behind us, we'd head for a vacant lot at the end of our neighborhood street. After casting about to find any broken bottles or tin cans for removal, Goal lines would be set by way of anything that came in a pair close to each other. A pair of trees worked good, as did a pair of boulders. Sometimes depending on the lot kids play on it was nothing more than lines drawn in the hardpack with one's foot. No two fields were the same, and none were regulation. Often there would be fields that were under one hundred yards, and a few that were over. Then we'd set up two teams of anywhere from 6-20 boys each. Anything less than 6 was a game of "Smear the Queer", (kids don't tend to be politically correct. Sorry.). Anything more than 20 would have turned into a free-for-all fight. Those are fun too, but unfortunately not the source of this article. Which is too bad, really, since they ARE extremely fun. Anyway... I'm sure the NFL would frown upon such teams, but when you're a kid you do as you like and rules change with the situation. Let the commissioner gripe if he wanted to... It's not like he'd have shown up at the game anyway. Though he should have... Those were some really good, smash mouth games. We didn't play that sissy old flag football, nor would we have worn pads even if we could have afforded them. Wearing pads would have meant no severe scabs to brag about later during school.

The picking of teams usually started with the two really cool kids from the neighborhood being captains. Not just cool... REALLY cool. I mean, some of these kids were so cool, they wore sun glasses while taking a bath. They even wore leather jackets to communion at the Catholic Church on Sundays. The kind of cool that only a twelve year old boy can envy. And envy we did. Everyone wanted to be like the coolest kids, we even practiced their affectations. And while the cool kids got to be captains and had real girlfriends, the rest of us were happy enough to be picked to their team. But I digress a bit. A quick coin toss, or Rock Paper Scissors event if you didn't have a coin, would decide who picked first and who got stuck with the nerdiest kid. (And every neighborhood had one of these kids.) I'm not talking about Steve Urkel kind of nerd, but the kind that wore glasses, and not sun glasses, coke bottle glasses. He had asthma, or some other debilitating disorder, and loved sports but couldn't play if his life depended on it. And in Sandlot Football his life very much could depend on it. Everyone was going to tackle this kid. Likely even some of his own team mates. Usually his own brother. He probably should have stayed home to learn piano like his mother wanted, but I suppose even the violent attention of sandlot football was more desirable than another go around of chopsticks. So, after the second team reluctantly took the kid in glasses with asthma, because he was always the last kid left, we'd set about to negotiations concerning the rules of this one game only. Each game required this rite of the Sandlot Football gods in order to be a real historical game. Without this particular practice all games would be nil and void in the eyes of the football gods. Honestly though, mostly it was for appearances as the rules usually ended up being not to kill anyone. But the football gods had to be appeased so you did it. After the rules were finalized and all agreed that the death of another kid would be a five yard penalty, there would always be one kid that had to go home shortly. In general that announcement only meant that he would be grounded when he failed to go home shortly. Because we all had first hand knowledge of the price you pay to be able to knock each other into the dirt for an hour or two. In our kid like ways, this was an acceptable price to pay. And if your mother was like mine... You knew the torn knees in the fairly new pair of "school" jeans was going to net you even worse afflictions upon arriving home that evening. To this day I think that maybe the football gods and mothers didn't like each other. Fathers understood it so long as you didn't get them yelled at for "encouraging" your behavior, but mothers were in constant battle with the Sandlot Football gods.

With my group of friends, the first captain to pick also got the ball first. You could kick it to them or throw it to them depending on your skill set. It really depended on if you had someone that could kick further than 20 yards or not. But either way it was a signal that the war... er... game was on. The first play would start with a snap to the cool kid of the first team. Yep, the cool kid usually was the quarterback unless there was more than one cool kid on the team. Everyone else but the last kid picked were potential receivers or running backs since blocking wasn't the best way to get famous in the neighborhood. The nerdy kid was there for blocking, which in retrospect wasn't the best choice. This did however leave him free to be thrown to the ground by anyone rushing the quarterback. The Nerdy kid was useful in this manner since it often got a majority of the rusher's aggression sidetracked should he actually get hold of the quarterback before he could throw. Now, each quarterback would have his favorite numbers to yell out behind the center. They never meant anything but it was a requirement passed on to us by those same football gods that had many rites which had to be observed in order for you to have the least chance to win the game. Just as it was for each player to change his name to that of a famous professional player for the duration of the game. It wasn't unusual to have three Jack Lamberts playing, or for both quarterbacks to be Joe Nameth. Each kid imagined himself to be his childhood hero and arguments about whether or not they fit the bill had no effect. And even the nerdy kid was allowed to set aside his size, glasses, and asthma, long enough to enjoy the fantasy of being a future or past Hall of Fame NFL player. Though it's hard to imagine that Jack Lambert would allow anyone to fling him into the dirt, much less yell "IN YOUR FACE!" to him. But that's the beauty of playing in a sandlot. Now sure, it's cruel on so many levels to treat a poor kid with asthma in this manner, and now that we're grown we realise we'd never do that. Well... We'd not yell "IN YOUR FACE!"... Most of the time... But we'd definately fling him into the dirt in a grown up and mature manner befitting our adult status.

Teams would go back and forth and score, or not, just like in a real game. Only, if a team scored, the other team seemed to automatically turn into all referees and argue the success of the score. Eventually the score would grudgingly be given and the game would continue. It would only be when a kid of sufficient rank within the group had to REALLY get home, that the game would end and the winners would brag they had just won a Super Bowl. Doesn't matter that no one agreed before the game started that this game would be the Super Bowl. Nope. It became the Super Bowl once the winning team declared it so, and the gods seemed to aprove of this. Arguing wouldn't help since most kids realised that if they didn't get home soon their dads would be taking their moms' side, and your punishment would jump ten fold. So you conceded the Super Bowl and everyone headed home with promises of a Super Bowl rematch the next weekend... Should your mothers and/or fathers be cooled down sufficiently enough that is.

At dinner you'd extoll the afternoon's game in exacting, yet exaggerated detail for your family's entertainment. Your mother would in all seriousness tell you that it's not nice to tackle the nerd boy from down the street so often, but then you never really expected less from the arch enemy of the Sandlot Football gods. And since she was in truth being disrespectful of these great gods, your promise to ease up on him couldn't be expected to hold come game time next week. Unless she happened by during a game that is.

So now autumn is upon us again and the weather is cooling, the leaves changing color, and it's these memories I see played out all over again with my own son that seem to warm my heart. There's a large part of me that wishes I could join those kids. But I'm middle aged now, and my playing field is a plush recliner, and my football is a remote control that allows me to switch from game to game on my NFL Sunday Ticket. Yet I stood on my porch long enough this past sunday to hear my son and his friends declare which parts of the sandlot were goals, and to hear my son declare himself as Ben Roethlisberger... Yep. He's the cool kid on the block where I was just middle of the pack. Life is good.


10-01-2008, 05:50 PM
Great read man, that sounds so much like what I used to do when I was a kid. Now my son loves going outside and playing with the neighbor kid, riding his bike, throwing the football and what not. Great times indeed!

10-01-2008, 06:08 PM
Nice Read Man...Funny how no matter where your from or raised football is football.Gotta love it.:yellowthumb:

10-21-2008, 09:52 AM
Thanks Steelers 70, that really brought me back and reminded me of why I love this time of year so much. I had good friends growing up and good times playing those backyard football games that you described perfectly, where you in my neighborhood? lol.

12-11-2008, 02:48 AM
Man did that bring back memories. I was lucky we had a nice grass field beside my house. Wasn't regulation but almost. I wasn't the cool kid ether, nor was I the nerd thank god. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane Steelers70. :clap:

Dee Mca
12-14-2008, 01:02 PM
Drawing the plays up in the dirt. Your the bottle cap and I'm the twig run out towards the bush. Loved playing pick up games but in all honesty the real fun started when I was old enough to play Pop Warner.

12-14-2008, 08:51 PM
thanks steelers 70