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  • Every Fall, we’d play football on the field beside the church, several times a week. We played tackle without equipment. It was a rough game. The one sideline was the wall of the church - once you touched it, you were out of bounds. It was a bitch getting tackled or blocked into it. You tried to avoid doing that, but sometimes it was unavoidable.

    I usually played defensive end or linebacker on defense, lineman on offense, but would occasionally get to go out for a pass. More often than not, I was just a decoy when I did. I was tall enough that I looked like a receiver, but I didn't care too much that they never passed it to me - I just liked to make the tackles and knock down passes on defense, and clear a way for the runner, or protect the quarterback with pass blocking on offense. It was a matter of pride. I was tough. I could take whatever the biggest, toughest guys on the other team could dish out, and still make the play. I wasn't one of your "skill" players, and really didn't care to be. I liked being in the middle of the battle, in the trenches.

    One time, I went out on a decoy pass route, put a juke move on my guy, and broke wide open on a long "fly" route, heading towards the end zone. Chuck let the ball fly in my direction, and led me perfectly. I caught the ball floating down over my head with arms out-stretched, head looking straight up, in full stride, just as I crossed the goal line, where the ground fell away in a sudden downhill slope that continued for 10 yards, ending at the back of the endzone, which was marked by a series of 6 big old oak trees.

    As I went down that slope, ball on my fingertips, I hauled it in like a loaf of bread, my body hurtling faster than my feet could keep up with, but were making their best effort to do so. I'd caught it – I’d scored! My head was still looking skyward, and just as I brought it down and looked forward, I smacked head-on into the largest oak with a sickening thud, and just sort of slid down the trunk of the old tree to a limp mass of flesh at the base. That's all I remember. They tell me I held onto the ball for the touchdown. I believe them, but have no recollection of whatever happened next.

    What I do remember is waking up to a strange, surreal dream in which I was in a huddle saying "give it to me", and they did, and I ran it up the middle, and kept coming back to the huddle after each play, uncharacteristically demanding the ball each time. And, they kept giving it to me, handing it off to me as I would run it up the gut, plowing headlong into the pile of bodies in the line in front of me, winding up at the bottom of the pile, pushing the bodies off, bouncing back to the huddle, demanding the ball again. "You okay, Pete?" I'd just grunt and say, "fine, just gimme the ball", and they would. It was like a dream in which it was me, but I was observing myself from outside.

    The next thing I remembered was waking up the next day. I remembered the catch. I remembered the strange "dream". I didn't remember anything else. My head throbbed and I had a huge welt on my forehead. I had no idea whether the "dream" really happened or if I'd dreamed it all.

    The next time we played, nobody said anything, but Chuck kept calling my number to run the ball or go out for passes, and he'd throw me the ball more often than not. My career as a blocker was apparently over. I kind of missed it, missed being that anonymous guy in the trenches - but I also enjoyed plowing into the trenches with the ball, refusing to go down until I'd pushed it forward a yard, 2, 3, legs churning, arms pumping, pushing ahead.

    I figured that it must not have been a dream, after all. I guess I was now one of the "skill" guys. I liked the new role.
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