The quarterback of my high school football team was Monte, nicknamed Mighty Monte by the local newspaper because of his sensational ability. Suitably Nordic, he was the golden boy of the school, from a well-to-do area of town. Like other standouts on the team, he had achieved the unusually early growth of a man’s body.
I didn’t play high school football. You could sneeze and blow me away.
There was a cruel caste system in high school. At the top of a figurative Mount Olympus were the football players, and their golden-haired, Venus vixen consorts, the cheerleaders. Underneath were the bullies, guys who didn’t play football, but who enjoyed slapping around smaller kids.
At the bottom were the untouchables, wimps like me.
If you ever thought learning was important, more so than chasing an inflated, stitched piece of leather over a grass field, look at your old year book. I’ll bet football is on the very first page.
Monte won every award for high school football you could think of, the Harry Coffee Award, All Valley, All League, All Metro; the Eat My Socks Award. You name it. He won it.
I, on the other hand, was busy trying to figure out how to get through the next day of school without being slapped around by Harry, a sadist who I believe got adolescent sexual pleasure out of inflicting pain. The best way to deal with it, I thought, was to disappear, become invisible.
My mother forced me to attend a game. Before the astonished eyes of the entire student body, our undefeated team got trounced—-by the economically disadvantaged (poor) kids from across town. Not just beaten, annihilated.
I have a confession. I didn’t dare openly cheer against my own team. But I felt good. I smiled, watching them pounded into the turf. I know this is subversive (my mother would call me a communist if she heard). I couldn’t help it. They were the big men on campus. I was nothing.
Now, they were being humbled.
At the end of my senior year, my mom demanded I attend at least one more school function, the “All Night” party. I attempted to increase my status at the event by becoming a pal of the bullies, by acting tough. Trembling, I lit a cigarette I’d sneaked into the dance hall, my first. I puffed clumsily, and coughed.
The bullies merely pointed, laughed, and commenced shoving me around.
Later, I also got the growth of a man’s body. The bullying stopped.
And Monte? He never grew an inch over what he was in high school, five-foot-nine. He never made college football or the pros.
I think about him today, a five-foot-nine-inch bald-headed guy with eight kids and a dusty bin full of trophies.
The meek inherit the earth.