Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Day Mike Ambrose's Jacket Broke

I grew up in a neighborhood four blocks long and one block wide. The neighborhood may have been small, but the 10-15 year old male demographic was disproportionally represented, resulting in various informal sporting events. During the fall and winter, football was the game of choice, and we played in the outfield of Runyon Field, which was right around the corner from my house. The games were usually five on five or thereabouts, tackle. This naturally resulted in plenty of bruises and scrapes, mostly inflicted by the untackleable Wayne DeMato. Wayne was a year ahead of me, among the older kids in our group, and he was built like a fire hydrant. Whichever team he ended up on always played him at fullback and nine times out of ten, that team won the game.

If you'd like to experience what it was like to play defense against Wayne's team, do this experiment at home. You'll need an assistant. Take a long plank, about thirty feet long and five feet wide. Stand in your driveway facing your house, with a waist-high table in front of you. Your assistant should then climb on your roof with a bowling ball. Take the plank and rest one end of it on the edge of the roof, the other end on the table. Then, close your eyes, and have your assistant roll the bowling ball down the angled plank, and try to catch it, all the while keeping your eyes closed. When you regain consciousness, you will have reasonably simulated an attempted tackle of Wayne DeMato.

Another example of Wayne's toughness. We were playing a pickup game of baseball at the same field one summer afternoon. I was on first base, and Wayne was playing shortstop for the other team. The batter, I can't remember who, hit a grounder to the second baseman, who flipped it to Wayne to start the double play. I slid in to Wayne, my shin hitting the back of his lower leg causing him to fall on me, which was not a pleasant experience, let me tell you. I heard a snap, and Wayne got up limping. We played a few more innings until eventually Wayne said his leg was really getting sore and he should go home. Well, the next day at school Wayne was in a cast, and told us he had broken the smaller bone in his lower leg (the fibula, but we didn't know that back then). Amazingly, I think he had two hits during the innings after he had already gotten hurt. Even on a broken leg, the guy dominated.

Other times, a bunch of us would play touch football in the street. I remember one time we were out there and the temperature was about fifteen degrees. One of the younger kids, Mike Ambrose, was wearing one of those NFL jackets that were supposed to look like your traditional letterman's jacket. Felt, with imitation leather (read: plastic) sleeves. Mike went across the middle, caught a pass and ran smack into the defender and fell to the asphalt on his arm. That's when the faux-leather right sleeve on his Redskins jacket broke.

Not ripped, not tore.


It was so cold that the plastic had hardened, and then cracked on the street. He pulled off the jagged forearm and tossed it aside, and we continued the game. We laughed our butts off about that one for weeks.

Games like these consumed hour upon hour, day after day. We didn't have elaborate video game systems (unless you count "Pong"), so we were outside until it got too cold in the winter or until the street lights came on in the summer. I still remember a lot of those guys. Joe Buck and Ken Kinney, who were always the fastest runners among us. Rob, and Paul, the Hodges Brothers Ken and John, and the two Waldmans, Keith and Kevin. It was a pretty fun neighborhood to grow up in. Very few fights, and those that did break out were settled pretty quickly and the game went on.

Don't remember anyone ever fighting Wayne, though. We may have just been dumb kids, but we weren't suicidal.

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Chrissy said...
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Chrissy said...

Wonder whatever happened to Wayne. His kids must love to say, My Dad can beat up your Dad.

Hey, Pong was tough on high speed!

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