Growing up, we lived for backyard football. After baseball season, we played as much as we could — in the rain, mud, and snow. We didn’t care. We played with neighbors, friends, family (including my sister) and our yard was perfectly set up for a small field. There were no video games, cell phones, or Facebook. We spent our time outside.
My parents never sent us to sports camps, training centers, or paid for private coaching. They handed us a football and opened the backdoor — go play!
I would give anything to have some video of those backyard games. They could get pretty intense.
I played pee-wee football and through ninth grade at Midview before deciding that baseball should be my focus. But I still loved football.
In about 1983, when I was 15 or so, my dad decided to start a touch football league. He called the local elementary school and asked if we could use the field a dozen or so Sundays a year. Surprisingly, they gave us permission. My dad then put an advertisement in the local paper to get players and form teams.
I don’t remember all the details; we had probably six teams. The rules were made very simple: Each game consisted of a set number of plays (rather than having to work a clock) and first downs were permanently defined about 20 yards apart, so we didn’t need first down markers. We played, I believe, seven on seven, and I am guessing the field was 80 yards long and proportionally wide. We paid for a couple of officials, but the league was affordable, something like $20 per person plus the cost of a jersey.
It was so much fun. We would get up each Sunday morning to go line the fields and spent all morning at the field. We would then come home, watch the Browns, and talk about our games. The games were competitive, and we had playoffs to crown a champion. There is still of photo of my dad’s team at my mom’s house from the year they won the championship. I don’t recall much fighting or complaining, other than a call here or there (but I may have forgotten). The guys, ranging from 40s to us teens, were just happy to play and have someone organize it.
At the time, I thought nothing of it. When my dad wanted to do something, he usually made a run at it — sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t. I didn’t appreciate his ambition until much later in life.
Looking back, it is quite remarkable. I can’t imagine doing something like that today on a small scale. There are lots of flag football leagues, but they are much more formal. I can’t imagine a school letting someone use their field with such a simple request. There was no insurance and players played at their own risk. It was just a bunch of guys getting together to have fun, burn off some energy, and hang out with friends.
Now, just to run a 5K race, many organizations require insurance to use their facilities and runners and walkers have to sign a waiver. I don’t deny we were lucky — someone could have gotten seriously injured and sued us and the school district. But I also feel like it was a different time.
Today, so much of life is bogged down with formality, liability, and worry. Things don’t happen because people worry about everything — what if this happens, what if that happens? It’s often paralyzing. Things take so long, meandering through permissions, legality, and formality that sometimes people just give up. It seems we live in a scared society.
Understandably, people do look for the opportunity to sue. Accidents don’t just happen anymore. There is no such thing as bad luck. Somebody is at fault; someone is responsible. So some of that fear is warranted, I grimly admit.
I am glad that my dad wasn’t scared because those are some of my favorite memories with him. Doing something you love with your friends and father — what could be better?