Friday, January 07, 2011


I once broke a guy’s fingers with my butt and a football. Sounds nasty but it wasn’t really. It was entirely satisfying for me and a learning experience for a bully. It was also a private little victory that made a bit of meaning out of years of unmerciful badgering, picking, teasing and even some physical abuse by school yard tyrants.

I was bullied a lot in Philadelphia schools. I was a country boy uprooted from the Appalachians of Western Pennsylvania and planted in the harsh culture of the big city. I didn’t understand the blustery strutting and crowing of young males bent on establishing pecking orders in practice for life on the streets. The guy in question was just one more tormenter plaguing my life.

He just wouldn’t leave me alone. Wherever we met; in the hall, boy’s room, or on the practice field, the guy was always messing with me in some way. He wasn’t sure about me physically, so he never laid a hand on me but it was constant, relentless harassment.

As far as the game of football goes, I loved playing center. The center’s main job is to snap the ball to the quarterback and block opposing linemen. The “snap” is when the center lifts the ball from the ground and hands it to the quarterback who has his hands placed right under the center’s butt and up against it. One of the things that fascinated me about the position was that, unlike other linemen, I had to snap the ball to the quarterback and then block in the same amount of time the other linemen had to just block. Getting better at whatever I do is a theme in my life. To be a better center, I reasoned that if I used a dumbbell with weights to exercise my arm in the same motion as the snap, I could increase my speed.

It worked but it also increased my strength. I was really unaware of that benefit but my quarterback knew it well. Apparently his hands would sting if he took the ball poorly. But Joe (the quarterback) learned how to take the snap from me. I noticed that I rarely ever felt the ball touch his hands. He was smooth - we were a team.

Bully apparently didn’t understand all that and one day when the coaches were busy teaching at some other place on the field, Bully started in on me about being the center. Joe said, “You couldn’t take a ball from him!” Bully scorned the idea and looked down his nose at me. Joe smirked at me and said to him, “Go ahead, try it.”

I felt weird to think that this guy would have his hands between my legs but I bent over the ball, took it in both hands as usual and took a peek back between my legs. Bully’s upper hand was against me with his fingers drooping down not splayed out like Joe’s. The light dawned as I looked forward and focused on the ball. When he called for the snap, I drove the ball backwards with all the force I could muster in my arm, chest and back.

Bully screamed. When I looked around he was dancing around holding his hand and cursing. He was bending over clutching his hand to himself one second and unbending, standing upward and lifting the injured hand to his eyes in the other. He kept that up that ritual of pain until the coaches rushed over to see what in the world was going on. He fell to his knees clutching his throbbing paw. I certainly didn’t expect such a spectacular result.

The back field coach asked Joe what happened. Joe shrugged and said, “He took a snap from Bradstock.” Coach shouted over Bully’s cry, “What! Why did you do that? You can’t take a snap from him! How stupid can you get?” Coach turned to me and gave me a dirty look. Bully was after all, a pretty good halfback. I shrugged and kept a straight face.

Bully wore a cast on his hand for a time, disappeared from the football team and left me alone. Justice can come from strange places and be really sweet for a country boy in the big city.


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