Saturday, July 17, 2010

How Many Missippis?

I ran full speed down Runyon Avenue, Mike the Whip in hot pursuit.   Mike's top speed was just a bit quicker than mine, so even though I'd managed to get a couple steps ahead of him, the gap was closing.  As instructed, I made a hard left at Old Man Wagner's beat up Chrysler Imperial and I looked back just in time to see a rough-looking teenager named Donny fire a bullet right at me.  I took it in the gut.

"Touchdown!  Burned you on that one, Mike!" I yelled.

"Yeah, yeah, just kick off and we'll see who gets burnt next time."

"Suckers walk," I said.  According to the Official Runyon Avenue Street Touch Football Rule Book (5th Edition), after scoring a touchdown, the offensive team was permitted to do the Ickey Shuffle, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson's Funky Chicken, or whatever celebratory touchdown gyrations they chose while the defense they'd scored upon had to drag their sorry asses down to the other end of the "field" to receive the ensuing kickoff.  Hence the term, "suckers walk".

Mike trudged back down the street, while Donny and I did a triumphant "Can-Can".

Street football has many variations, most of which are dependent upon the number of players on hand.  Sometimes, like in the game I just told you about, there were only three players.  It was me vs. Mike the Whip, with Donny acting as "steady quarterback"[1].  The steady quarterback was a player designated to be the QB for both teams, and was used when you had an odd number of kids.  For example, if five guys showed up to play, the teams might be me and Mike against Donny and Paul, with Robbie as steady quarterback.

Of course, these games were usually somewhat rigged, depending on who was pissed off at whom that week.  One time a guy named Kenny was the steady quarterback the same week Mike the Whip had stolen his girlfriend.  I beat Mike that day by a score of 84-0.  Here's Kenny's statistical summary for the game:

As QB for Mike:  0-33 passing, 0 TD's, 12 interceptions
As QB for me: 22-27 passing, 10 TD's, 0 interceptions

Since everyone got to be steady quarterback eventually, those things kind of evened out in the long run.

Street football in my neighborhood was basically intended to be a three-on-three game, although two-on-two would also work.  If more kids than that showed up, we just headed to the ball field and played tackle.  The basic structure of our three-on-three worked like this:

Two telephone poles, about 25 yards apart, were the goal lines.  Just about halfway between the telephone poles, in front of the Smiths' house, there was a scrawny little tree that served as our first down marker.  If your offensive drive started deep in your own territory, once you passed the scrawny tree, you got a new set of downs to work with.

On your offensive team, you had a quarterback and two wide receivers.  Since it was touch football, and because Runyon Avenue wasn't wide enough to allow for the old fashioned Green Bay Packers power sweep, the passing game dominated.  On defense, you had a defensive lineman (or "rusher") and two defensive backs who covered the receivers.  Since there was no offensive line to block the rusher, he instead had to count Mississippis.[2]  You know, "One Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc."  Sometimes the rules required the rusher to count five Mississippis before charging in, sometimes it was three.  Or, if the quarterback was younger than ten years old or if he threw like a girl (I'm looking at YOU, Gerard Plouse), ten Mississippis were granted.  This gave the quarterback a realistic amount of time to drop back and locate a receiver.  Over the years, or maybe it was that way from the very beginning, the defensive linemen, in their haste to sack the quarterback, abbreviated Mississippi to the quicker "Missippi."

It was because of the Missippi rule that a kid named Randy hated to play defensive line.  You see, Randy had a stuttering problem, so by the time he made it all the way to "four Muh-muh-muhsippi, five Muh-muh-muh-muhsippi," the quarterback had not only completed a touchdown pass, he'd gone into his house, made a glass of Nestle's Quik, and returned in time to finish the Touchdown Hokey Pokey with his teammates.

This reminds me of another story.  In the winter, Randy would always wear a knit New York Giants hat, with a fluffy blue and red pom pom, or "beanie", on top.  One morning on the school bus, Mike the Whip kept flicking the beanie, which drove Randy nuts.  Finally, he turned around and yelled, "Hey!  Quit flicking my buh-buh-beanie!"  Naturally this cracked everyone up, and from then on no one's winter hat had a beanie on top, they had bubba beanies.

The standard touch football playbook was pretty simple.  The receivers ran patterns like the "button-hook", the "square in", and the "run straight downfield until you get to the trash can and turn around, I'll fake it to you, and then go long".   The quarterback would wait till a receiver got open (hopefully prior to "five Missippi") and try to hit him with the pass.

One Saturday morning in January, with the temperature hovering in the mid-20's, we had a good game going.  It was me, Paul and Randy against Donny, Robbie and Mike (not Mike the Whip, another Mike.  Our neighborhood had several Mikes, and about four Joeys).  My team was on defense.

"Okay, I said.  I'll cover Robbie, Paul cover Mike, and Randy, you rush the QB."

"Aw, muh-muh-man!  Why do I gotta ruh-rush?"

"Because you're too slow to cover either of the receivers," I said.  In the spirit of fair play, though, I asked Donny if we could change the rules a little.

"Hey!  Donny!  If Randy rushes, can he just count three Missippis?  It's not fair to make him count five, it'll take a friggin' hour!"

"Hell no!" called Donny from the huddle.  "It's five Missippis!  You don't like it, just let Jiggly Mouth cover Mike or Robbie and someone else rush."

Clearly, the spirit of fair play did not exist on Runyon Avenue.

"Sorry, Randy, you're rushing."

Donny broke the huddle and brought his team to the line.  Mike was split wide left, Robbie wide right.  Donny barked out the signals.

"Down!  Set!  Blue 47!  Blue 47!  HIKE!"


Robbie took off on a fly pattern, while Mike cut across the middle.  When he tried to stop short, though, he hit a patch of ice and fell to the ground, at which point his jacket broke.

It didn't rip.  It didn't tear.

It broke.

Mike was wearing one of those 1977-edition NFL jackets (Redskins, if I recall correctly) designed to look like your standard varsity jacket.  Felt, with the imitation leather (or as it's more commonly known, plastic) sleeves.  As cold as it was that day, when Mike fell arm-first onto the frozen street, the plastic simply cracked, all the way around.  After we laughed our asses off for a few minutes, Mike pulled off the broken sleeve and we played on.

Years later, Randy tried out for the high school football team.  Because of his size (and the fact that he moved about as quickly as, say, a glacier) the coach put him on the defensive line.  According to legend, during the first intra-squad practice game, Randy stepped up to the line of scrimmage, looked at the quarterback and asked, "How muh-many muh-muh-sippis?"  Not missing a beat, the quarterback replied, "Five."

The center snapped the ball, and Randy stood up and started counting, "One muh-muh-muh-sippi . . . ", at which point the offensive tackle planted him into the turf.  Having learned his lesson, Randy lined up for the next play with fire in his eyes.  Abandoning the Missippi-counting entirely, on the next play he tossed aside two blockers and sacked the quarterback with a flourish.  I don't know if he then did the Ickey Shuffle, but he should've.

Randy, Donny, and another kid from our neighborhood named Mark all went on to have a fairly successful high school football careers.  With the skills they'd developed in the Runyon Avenue Street Football League, no one was really surprised.  And of course, they always remembered football's Golden Rule.

Namely, try not to piss off the steady quarterback.

[1] In some neighborhoods, this position was called the "all-time quarterback".  But those were the neighborhoods where all the douchebags lived. 
[2] In those same neighborhoods, "alligators".


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PGBowler2 said...

Oh, man I was just telling my nephew about the street football. The time we were playing in front of my house and the guy came by in the pick up truck and told us to stop playing in the street and go down to the field, when my brother told him off and then after the truck left you informed my brother that it was the mayor! And how, at the Smalley Avenue "field" the telephone pole was the first down. Or when we played tackle, the fence was out of bounds. Good times for sure!

Eva Gallant said...

What a fun post! I enjoyed reading it.

Michelle H. said...

Never played street football, since we lived on back roads. We did play field football until my older brother messed up his knee on a hit.

J.J. said...

My brothers played football in the street but they'd have to scramble quickly whenever they heard a car approach. Living on a windy street, you couldn't SEE it coming. lol!

Suldog said...

This is a flat-out tremendous story. Couple of true out-loud laughs from me during the reading.

We played the same rules, pretty much. Great memories. We used sewers for first down markers, though.

You reminded me of another designation for a guy playing for both teams, but this one in baseball: Official Catcher. Or, sometimes, Official Pitcher. The difference was in how respected the kid was. You got to be Official Pitcher if you were a stud, Official Catcher if you were hopeless as both a pitcher and a hitter. I can truthfully say I was neither, as I was just good enough to avoid the doofus tag and nowhere near good enough to be considered a stud pitcher.

Heff said...

I would have LOVED to have seen the jacket sleeve CRACK, LOL !

Jeanne said...

Dude, you can tell a story.

Jesson And Rey Ann said...

love this post!, great story..

Jeremy from We Took The Bait said...

I'd say... "Poor Mike," but then I concluded that anyone wearing a Redskins jacket sort of deserves to have their sleeve crack and fall off.

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