Column: Start of football should be a national holiday

08/08/2014 1:32 PM

08/08/2014 1:33 PM

You may think the year begins Jan. 1, but you’d be wrong, at least on my calendar.

In my world, Aug. 1 is the red-letter day. As a teenager growing up in eastern Wake County, that was the first official day of football practice. For me, it was more anticipated than any Christmas present I could have ever received.

These days, official practices begin a little bit earlier – the first pictures started filling my in-box on July 29. Either way, one thing’s clear. Football season is here. And I, for one, can not wait.

Growing up, the start of football season was a reason for joy and the end of the last game of each season was a moment of grief.

More than anything I’ve ever done – including newspaper work – football required teamwork. The game is often called the ultimate team sport. And there’s good reason for it. Imagine Damontay Rhem running up and down the field without five bulky lineman clearing a path. Heck, imagine Walter Payton doing it. If that’s hard to imagine, it’s because it couldn’t be done. Rhem and Payton both need their teammates.

The same was true for me and my teammates way back in the prehistoric 1980s. To this day, I can recall play signals and position names. I can still predict what plays the college and NFL teams playing on television will run before they run them.

We practiced in the evenings because most of the players on our team worked in tobacco in the summer and that was morning work. We heard about the kids at the city schools practicing in the cool of the morning. If there was ever any jealousy, our coach, Johnny Sasser, put that to rest right quick, pointing out to us that no city team was ever gonna whip up on a bunch of work-hardened farm boys.

Those August nights were undoubtedly among the hottest of the year and, in those days, there wasn’t the emphasis on hydration that there is today. We got one water break about halfway through a three-hour practice.

But that was just fine by me. I didn’t go out there to drink water. I wanted to play football. And it didn’t matter that we really didn’t play much actual football in those early days of preseason practice. I was happy doing up-downs and and form tackling and learning to read quarterbacks. Oh, the memories just come flooding back. If you can’t read the excitement in my words, well, shame on me.

After six long days, we finally got to put on shoulder pads and football pants. Then the real hitting could start. Today’s players have just finished their mandated conditioning practices, and now they, too, can put on the pads and start crunching.

So here’s a motion for whatever government wants to pursue it: I move we change the official first day of the year to coincide with the first day of football practice. After all it’s the start of the only really important time in any boy’s life.

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