Man, oh, man, did you people do your cotdang Hoodoo duty (Hoo-duty, maybe?) last week! Those poor Bulldogs didn't even know what hit ‘em. Our beloved Crimson Tide swept through Athens like the dadgum deluge that drenched those fabled hedges of Sanford Stadium. The boys in crimson lit into their eastern brethren with a ferocity we've not yet seen in this season, and they didn't turn loose of ‘em until the score was all but sealed up tight.
Whatever you people did last week, whatever shameful admissions you made, whatever acts of debauchery that you perpetrated against the whole of decent mankind collectively, it worked. From the opening drive, it was apparent that good ole Football Loki was wedged firmly into Nick Saban's back pocket, and he performed acts of Hoodoo heroism as a result. The Crimson Tide conquered the elements and the Bulldogs, and for that, your humble narrator is truly much obliged.
Now, we can't go a'restin' on our laurels however...mostly because restin' on one's laurels doesn't sound particularly comfortable...I mean, do y'all know the laurels in question are, like, branches? At any rate, we needn't be restin' on our laurels, neither figuratively nor literally. For though the Tide has shown marked improvement, and thanks in part to the revenge parlayed on those heathens from Oxford by the Good Gator Jim McElwain, the Crimson Tide may be back in the championship hunt yet. To bring such a conclusion into reality will require a flawless performance for the remainder of the season, and Bama's opponent this week is as cagey as they come.
"But OWB, surely you jest...are these not the same razor pigs who fell to Toledo?" Why of course, but don't be fooled. That damned Derty Bert and his band of merry ne'er-do-wells are never happy serving as the butt of a joke, and after the embarrassing loss to the aforementioned MAC team, these Hogs are likely angry.
Have you ever hunted hog? Yeah, they aren't as terrifying as say a lion or a critter of the ursine persuasion. "Why OWB, a damned hog is nothing more than bacon on the hoof!" you surely muse. But such an assumption is folly, for a wounded boar is nothing short of ferocious, a whirling maelstrom of bristly fur, swamp stank and razor-like ivory teeth. This ole boy has seen a cur-dog ripped stem to stern, from belly to grin, on the sharp pointed tusks of a feral ham-beast. Those critters are horrendous, and once wounded, they gain super-porcine abilities the likes of which would strike terror into the hearts of a half-dozen bulldogs.
Make no mistake, these hogs are wounded, and they'll gash the Tide up one side and down the other if the boys aren't on top of their game...and of course, if Football Loki conspires against them due to insufficient tribute. Therefore, I implore you, for the sake of the Crimson Tide, bring your worst this week. Don't worry about saving Hoodoo for bigger contests...after all, you'll have several weeks to generate more Hoodoo by further degrading yourselves in the name of all that is holy (and crimson).
That said, I'll offer you a tale from my youth, when your narrator rushed home from school each autumn afternoon for games of pickup football. Few things turned over my motor like the thought of hurling myself around the backyard (or street, as it were) with a pigskin in my hands. Whether there was a passel of us available, or just two or three, we'd find some way to throw together a semi-competitive football game of sorts.
On many occasions, there would only be three kids available, including myself, which would require some type of "all-time quarterback" arrangement in order to grease the game's skids and create action. For those of you ignorant to such contrivances (read: those of you not from the South), the aforementioned roster would go something like this: since I was one of the bigger framed kids, I would draw duty as the all-time quarterback, which meant the other two players were really competing, while I was just on hand to toss passes and run the offense for each player. It was fun, it passed the time, and it was, after all, still football.
At times, we'd have full squads for these pick-up games. I worked hard to recruit the neighborhood kids, and would bus in talent from amongst my school's population when possible to bulk up the rosters. We'd sometimes meet in the field of the middle school at the top of my neighborhood, where there was plenty of room to run without fear of traffic or smashing into something unforgiving, like, say a concrete-planted clothesline T. Playing football in one's yard was always something akin to a Double Dare obstacle course, as there were always stumps, holes, shrubs and fences with which to contend while in pursuit of football greatness.
Then there were other times that it was just me, B-Rad, and a neighbor kid. When I was about 12 or so, that other neighborhood kid was more than likely Keef, the first African-American fella in my neighborhood, with whom I had formed a fast friendship from the moment he set foot in Beau Terra.
Let me first explain something about this particular ‘hood in this particular era of Mobile history. The neighborhood in which I, your faithful narrator, grew up changed dramatically between my childhood years and the time I moved away. Urban blight, as some would call it. As a young'un, the neighborhood was mostly composed of older types who were in their grandparenting years, with a few folks from my mom's generation with children my age. Mostly white, middle class folks, socio-economically speaking. Mostly traditional "two-parent" families, predominantly Protestant.
We were the "blackest" folks on the block, and by that I mean in the sense that Bill Clinton was the first black president (according to Chris Rock). My mom was raising us by herself as a single parent, dad didn't want a hell of a lot to do with the proposition. Mom had gone back to college and had only a "work-study" while in school, so our financial resources were meager at best. Beanie-weenies, cheese weenies, pretty much weenies of all kinds were a staple. "Gubment" cheese and Cream of Wheat.
My mom taught at an inner city school, in the "Down the Bay" portion of downtown Mobile. Deep in the ‘hood, so to speak. Mom was a Jimmy Carter supporter and an ardent liberal, so she felt it her duty to immerse us in diversity, before diversity was even a "thing." We were well-rounded children, culturally speaking, and I can honestly say that's one of the greatest gifts my mom was able to give me and my brother. It has served me well throughout my life, and has given me a strong moral compass when it comes to treating all people with respect.
When I was about 10, the first honest-to-goodness black folks moved into our neighborhood. (Now I know "black" is not the preferred nomenclature, but my fingers will fall off if I have to type "African-American" a bunch of times. So "black" it is...we're all friends here.)
The family consisted of a nice middle aged lady and her son Keef, who happened to be the same age as me. Keef was a big ole rotund fella for his age, kinda like me, though he outweighed me by a good 60 or some-odd pounds. Dude was a monster by my standards, and he had grown up playing park ball in some of Mobile's toughest areas, Happy Hill's Peters Park being one of them. For those of y'all who've never attended inner city park ball games on Saturdays, let me explain something to you: such an endeavor is not dissimilar in terms of bodily risk from riding through Compton in the General Lee playing the collected works of David Allen Coe through a blaring stereo system. In other words, fist fights are commonplace, stabbin's happen, occasionally a gun is brought to bear. The fact that Keef was a veteran of such gridiron scrapes only added to his mythology in my book, as he was one of the few kids I knew who was admittedly tougher than me.
This, in part, is why we found friendship as kindred spirits in a neighborhood still leaning heavily towards the racist tendencies of the South's past, even if in a more latent configuration than in the days of Jim Crow. Aside from that, we also had in common the fact that we both came from "broken homes," to use the parlance of the day: boys being raised by their mothers without the paternal influence of fathers in the household. Though such is commonplace in this day and age, in the early 1980s, it was still something of a novelty to have a single mother raising her boys on her own, and there was a stigma attached to the proposition, without a doubt. We were looked down upon by the kids with both parents in-home, not through direct comments or anything that confrontational, but through furtive side-eyes and mutterings spoken between others as we passed. When playing with other kids in the neighborhood, I'd from time to time hear mothers talking over the fence post, saying things like "It's so sad that she has to be the mama and the daddy," or "Those poor boys ain't got a chance in the world without a daddy."
No, Keef and I both knew what it was like to be the respective men of the house for our families, and it was yet another point of contact we shared. So being the "others" in a neighborhood full of two-parent household, middle-class white folks, Keef and I instantly bonded. We were inseparable during the roughly two years he called our neighborhood home before his mother got a better-paying job, and she was able to move him elsewhere.
Routinely, Keef and I would end up in my backyard after school, pitching a football until we could determine how many people we could pull together for a pick-up game before the all-too-early autumn sunset. On this particular day, it seemed no one was available to play.
"Man, you don't know nobody else we can get?" Keef asked me.
"Well, B-Rad will be back from baseball practice soon, he may play. I can hop the fence and go see if Jefro Bodeen wants to play."
Some of you may remember Jefro Bodeen from previous tales, the milquetoast mama's boy and victim of the Southern Gothic twists of a very gnarly family tree. One of my earliest playmates in the neighborhood had been this goofy kid who lived next door to me. With owlish wire-framed glasses and straight, spiky blond hair, the dude was a doppelganger for a male Martina Navratilova (or in other words, Martina Navratilova...my previous description was somewhat redundant, no?). Jefro's parents were very protective people, partially because of the dark secret that they hid from him until his teenage years: they were not really his parents. Their daughter, who they portrayed as Jefro's sister, was his actual mother. But she had him young, and being unable to care for him at the age of 14, these older folks took him in and raised him as their own. Good people, but also crazy people, waaaay overprotective. Like 13-and-can't-ride-his-bike-in-the-street over-protective.
I wasn't sure that he'd want to play, and if he did want to play, I really wasn't sure if his overprotective mother/grandmother matron-figure, Afro Bogey-Togey, would release her wraithlike grip of her beloved porcelain doll long enough to allow him to have a little boyish fun. Though Afro Bogey-Togey herself was from the ethnically-diverse berg of Whistler, AL, she was not very accepting of those who were blessed with additional melanin, like many of her generation. In other words, this B was racist as the day was long, and she had previously made her thoughts known to my mother for letting her boys keep company with "a black."
That wasn't my only evidence that this woman was an inheritor to the cracker philosophy so many of her countrymen shared. For example, I can remember being in the parlor, playing Transformers with Jefro, with the local evening news ambling along on the television set. A story came across the airwaves regarding a tragic accident involving a six-year-old child who was killed while crossing Broad Street with her mother by a drunken driver. Afro Bogey-Togey piped up, speaking to Jefro's hen-pecked dad/ granddad.
"Well, that's just sad, child killed by a drunk. I mean, she was black...but it's still sad."
This was the mentality I was dealing with, folks. However, we needed another body for three-man football. Undaunted, I hopped the fence and began to walk towards the door, the crushed limestone of the driveway crunching beneath my shoes. I heard someone behind me, and turned to find Keef was trailing along.
I knew this wouldn't fly, as surely ABT wouldn't let Jefro out to play with us if she knew Keef was going to be there...but the die was cast. I knocked on the door, and Jefro answered.
"Hey man, wanna play ball?"
"YEAH, yeah, lemme put on my shoes." From inside I heard his mother figure's shrill voice, him muttering under his breath, and her shuffling towards the door. She snatched the door open, glaring at us. She didn't even give us any quarter, just shoo'd us away.
"No, he ain't playin' with y'all. OWB, he will talk to you later."
I shrugged and tried to play it off, but I could tell it was no use. Keef knew the deal, something he had likely already experienced 10 times over since moving to our neighborhood. It was ugly and it embarrassed me, made me ashamed that "my people" would act in such a disgraceful fashion towards a child who was just like me in every way but skin tone.
Our only hope of striking up a game at this point revolved around B-Rad, who arrived home from fall ball practice with an ankle he turned while sliding into third base, thus relegating him to the injured reserve for this particular game.
"Well, I reckon me and you can just play, Keef," I suggested.
"Yeah, man, but that ain't goan be no fun."
"Sure it will, it will at least be good for practicing our kickoff return skills."
"Okay, let's play in your backyard."
Devoid of a coin, we flipped an old tin cat food can lid marked on one side to determine who would get the benefit of receiving the first kickoff. Keef won, and we took position at opposite ends of the yard, the respective end zone marked with empty flower pots for goal line pylons. Since neither of us were kickers, per se (skewing much more in the direction of offensive linemen, physically speaking), I just hurled the "kickoff" in his direction.
Keef caught the ball and ran at me as I ran at him. Now this boy was built like A'Shawn Robinson at 14 years old, a little fluff on ‘im but he was heavy and as broad as battleship. I figured I needed to go low on him, using my better agility to my advantage. I launched myself at his feet, but in an epic feat of big-man athleticism, he leapt over me as he passed, and trucked it right on into the end zone.
"Touchdown, 7-0" he said, and emphatically spiked the ball.
My turn. Keef threw the ball to me, and I plucked it from the air in stride, getting up a full head of steam as I cascaded towards the pre-marked end zone. I was a little more nimble than the big man, and after juking him to the "hash," I broke outside on him and got the edge untouched for a score of my own.
"7-7." I could see this was going to be a shootout of Big 12 Air Raid proportions, with neither "defense" really able to do much to stop the respective opponent.
I kicked off to Keef, this time imaging my best bet at getting a stop was to strip the ball as he tried to bull by me. But Keef hung onto that ball the way a suburban hausfrau clutches the last Furby at a Black Friday sale. They talk about three points of contact, but with his python arms and rolls of abundance belly fat, I imagine his was more like seven points of contact. Just couldn't get that ball out of there, and he once again rolled past me.
On my next reception, I tried the same tactic that had previously worked, but Kef wizened up and forced me out of bounds by stretching the play out with a good angle. I actually had to have him snap it to me, which was not optimal in regard to the surprise of a snap count, but we did what we had to do. I actually ran towards him and threw myself a pass high over his head, hung it up in the air while I ran behind him. He gave up on the play after seeing my crafty work, just fell down laughing at me as I took it to the house.
The game went on as the twilight settled gray across the south Alabama horizon. It was clear we had only a few minutes before darkness covered us and the dinner bell sounded, something neither of us big boys were about to miss on any account.
"Last series, man," I said. "We each get one more possession, then we'll call it."
"Yeah, I hear it."
I tossed it to Keef and he came lumbering towards me. This time I timed my dive perfectly and shot the legs right out from under him mid-stride so that he couldn't change course and jump over me again. For the first time, I had stopped him, and subsequently, I had the advantage. Much like Derrick Henry, it took Keef a few steps to get up to speed, at which point stopping him was infinitely more difficult. I figured, if I snapped him the ball, I could just pile on him immediately and keep him from churning his feet, and eventually I would be able to drag him down the way a lion drags down a much larger wildebeest. It worked, as through four downs, he couldn't muster any more yardage and I got the ball back deep in his territory.
My plan involved another unconventional tactic: namely, I would have Keef shotgun snap it to me. I'd line up a good 15 yards or so behind the line of scrimmage, and have him toss it to me so I could get a head of steam and blow by him. However, I underestimated Keef's determination. He snapped me the ball and I ran at him, but he moved laterally down the line. I knew my only chance was to run through him rather than around him, so I tucked the ball and gave his big body my best Heisman impersonation, stiff-arming him in the chest as I passed.
Now, I had expected some fantastic explosion at the point of impact, like he would be propelled backwards with the force of my super-human strength as I passed by him. There was an explosion, alright. In my wrist. I felt the sharp sting of pain leap up my arm like a bolt of electricity, and then the dull throbbing in my right wrist. I fell to the ground writhing in pain, and Keef just stood over me, staring down while I wiggled.
"AHHHH, I THINK IT'S BROKEN!" I was panicking, as, aside from the pain, I had no idea how was I going to explain this one to my momz.
Keef shrugged and picked up the ball I had dropped. He walked down to the end zone.
"Touchdown, I win."
"DAMMIT MAN, my arm is broken, I don't care. My mama is gonna kill me. We don't have money to go to no doctor!"
"Just tell her you fell off the roof," Keef said. That was our answer to every libelous injury we incurred. If we were doing something stupid and got hurt, the reason was always that we fell off the roof, as if that was any better than whatever stupid act was the actual case of said injury.
"Man, I can't do that! She tol' me not to get on the roof again!"
"Well, then you just gonna have to shake it off." He said it plaintively, as if shaking off a broken bone was a commonplace occurrence that was ushered into existence by the mere uttering of the phrase. He was right though, I couldn't tell momz, as I'd rather deal with 10 broken arms than one two week stretch of restriction, especially during football and fair season.
We parted company and I went inside. Momz was in the kitchen cooking her patented (and horrible) baked curry chicken. That woman loves her some curry, for cryin' out loud, and I can't even stand to smell the stuff. But alas, Hoodoo for another time.
"Whatchall been doin' OWB?"
I knew I looked guiltier than a Dostoevsky character, especially considering the way I was favoring my broken wing. I suppressed a wince.
"Oh, nothin', just playin' some ball. Keef won."
The pain was incredible, I wanted to cry. But I tried to keep a stone face, as I didn't want Momz to find out about the injury. It felt like my arm was coming apart at the wrist hinge, just an awful, grinding feeling.
"Come here and help me, I spilled something on this burner. Hold this pot while I wipe it off." She pointed to a Dutch oven full of steaming water that she was going to use for cooking rice. I knew that my arm wouldn't hold, but I wasn't sure what else to do. I just hoped that by some divine mediation or use of the Force, I'd be able to weld the bones together long enough to lift the heavy pot full of water and sit it back down without incident. I picked it up, and my wrist instantly gave as the pot fell out of my grasp, spilling out all over me and the floor.
"Oh shoot," I said. "Must have slipped. Guess I need to go change." I ran to my room, relieved to be out of the public eye.
I thought to myself, "Bones heal quickly, maybe I'll be better tomorrow. Just gotta get through the night." I laid low, and prepped for school the next day without incident. Made it to class on time and all was going well. It still hurt like hell, but the sharp pain had dissipated. Now I was just left with the dull thudding, and the feeling that my wrist was hanging loose like a gate with a broken hinge.
I had not thought about the implications of my school day. While I was able to clutch a pencil and write with some additional labor, there was a problem: PE. My PE teacher, who will call Coach Teel-hard, was a notorious hard-ass and Barn graduate, and he didn't let things like logic or reason interfere with the proper pursuit of a physical education. No sir, a presidential pardon wouldn't get you out of calisthenics, and he only accepted a doctor's excuse with a smirk and a smart-ass comment that implied latent sissification to anyone who attempted to dodge the rigors of sportsmanship.
That said, he wasn't much of an "educator," per se, as one can expect of an Auburn graduate. No, after about 15 minutes of push-ups, jumping jacks and squat thrusts, he'd cut us loose onto the field inside the red-clay track, where we'd strike up football games (some of the European type kids would play soccer). After gutting my way through a round of exercises (the push-ups were particularly difficult with a broken wrist, but I was salty, y'all), we took to the field with a pigskin and some traffic cones for markers.
We broke into teams, and I was fortunate enough to be a captain. First guy I picked was Dameyune Craig, as he was the most athletic kid at our middle school. You may recognize his name, as he starred at multi-time state champion Blount High School under Ben Harris before going on to a career as the celebrated QB of the god-awful Auburn Tigers. Even in middle school, the dude was special: fast, strong and had a cannon arm for a kid who hadn't reached his 14th birthday.
I liked to play receiver on offense, as I had mad ball skills. I could highpoint with the best of them, and with my height, I didn't lose many jump-ball battles. I won't bore you with the details, but once again, it was a close game that was winding down with the PE period. To make a long story short, I went deep to the track (which was the end zone), and I could tell Dameyune saw that I was coming open. He released a bullet of a pass a little high, as we had discussed, so that I could jump up and sure-handedly reel it in.
Being a gamer, I had not thoroughly thought out the implications of said play-call. Naturally, when I leapt for the ball, I extended my right arm (the broken one for those of you who aren't keeping score at home.) That ball was moving with what seemed like Favre-ian velocity, and I palmed it as my wrist bent back with what appeared to be an audible snap. I fell to the ground, once again doing the Curly Shuffle of pain in the red dust.
People crowded around me. Everyone was amazed, believing that Dameyune had broken my arm with his rocket throw. I didn't correct them, as I figured I'd at least be able to milk the injury for a little time away from class. I clutched my wrist with my left hand, ball still clutched in my right.
"Look at that!" hollered one of my friends, Fee-urn. "O-Dub still caught the ball!" He was right. Despite the pain, I hung on to the ball for the touchdown. Great, Johnny Hero wins the game...but his arm was further jacked the F up.
I got up, totally out of options regarding the continuing obfuscation of my injury. Teel-hard was on his way across the track, and when he asked me what was wrong, I figured I had to tell the truth. At least I'd get out of the remainder of the school day.
"WHAT?" Teel-hard yelled. "You had a broken arm and were out here playin' football? You tryin' to get me fired, boy? Get yo ass up to the office and call yo mama."
Those were words I did not want to hear, and I had to come up with an alternate plan. On the long walk to the office, I thought about my options. That's when it came to me: call Grandma-ma (the cool, three-time Heisman winning one who runs a 4.2/ 40).
It was genius. She would not only be available to come get me as a go-to emergency contact in times of illness, but once engaged, she would also act as a buffer between me and my mother's wrath. She picked me up and carried me to the clinic, where the doctor performed the X-ray and relayed the inevitable news: a broken wrist, shattered growth plate. She also covered the cost of the doctor visit, thus eliminating what I expected would be the primary cause of my mother's rage
By the time we arrived home, Momz was there, waiting. I never really told her what had happened the day before, acting instead as though the injury had happened at school. Thus, she had a lengthy discussion with the principal about the implications of a lack of supervision during the school day, and the legal ramifications if said oversight didn't improve.
Sure, it wasn't the coach's fault at all, as the initial injury was of my own doing. But I figured I was lucky things worked out and let it ride. I mean, even though maybe Coach wasn't guilty in this particular case, he was a Barner, which made him guilty of bad judgment at some point in his life.
Everything was great until the next day, when Keef appeared on my doorstep. Momz answered the door, and called me into the living room to greet my guest. I showed Keef my cast, and he said "Cool."
"Man, hard to believe you broke your arm on me." I froze. He wasn't supposed to have said that. I didn't even want to look at my mother, but I could tell from the heat of her glare that she had heard Keef's proclamation.
"Umm, I thought you said you broke your arm at school." Before I could answer, Keef piped in.
"Nahnahnah, Ms. Momz, he had done that yesterday afternoon when we were playin' ball in the yard." As soon as he said it, he knew he was wrong. "Uhhh, I think I hear my mama callin' me, I better go."
Momz focused her attention on me. "So...you lied?"I think everyone can imagine where the conversation went from there. To be brief, I got two weeks of restriction, and had to take on B-Rad's chores in addition to my own for the duration. I'd have been better off just telling her I had jumped off the roof.
Friends, huh? Not content as a direct contributor to my physical affliction, Keef had accidentally killed my social life as well. Two weeks without football, without a bike, without my pellet rifle, was about enough to kill a body with boredom. And to top it off, I still had the broken arm. Such is life, que sera...
There's my story of deceit, people. As an honest man, I am ashamed at my subterfuge, and I am equally ashamed of my demonstrated ignorance of the laws of physics, i.e. limber wrist bone + 280 pound man-child = pain + agony.
Smoke the Hawgs, RTR.