Each time I think back to my first experiences in playing or viewing sports I smile. The first time I threw a football, hit a baseball, or made a hoop in basketball I felt a surge of emotional satisfaction that transcended everyday life.
The first time I threw a football was in Fairfax California. I was on the street and a neighborhood father was throwing to his son. I asked, “Could I catch and throw the football with them?” They said, ” Yes”, and the rest is history.
I had an affinity for throwing small round balls against a wall so that they would bounce back to me, but this oval ball was another story. Almost every afternoon (after I recieved a football from Santa) I would ask whatever neighborhood kid was available, to play catch. Eventually I got pretty good at throwing the football, maybe twenty yards, consistently.
Around that same time I would play basketball at my elementary school, Deer Park. I could hardly reach the backboard because the baskets were not lower then regulation. Still, I would be out there, virtually under the basket, waiting for a player to throw me the ball so that I could have a chance to score a basket. Didn’t happen too often, but I kept trying.
After a few growth spurts around the fifth grade, making baskets became easier. However, I found that my sport was kickball. Unfortunately this wasn’t a recognized school sport. I could kick that ball farther than almost anyone on that playground. I would catch the ball for outs and then I would kick that ball (when I was up) to the deepest part of the outfield, rounding the bases like Lou Brock.
Possibly the most fun I had in those elementary playground days was when I played what we called, “Prison Ball”. There would be a cordoned off court that was split in the middle. One team on one side of the middle line and the other team opposite them.
Players would be given two balls on either side of the middle line, one each. Then they would rare back and throw the ball at the opposing teams players. I would always aim for their heads (although this was frowned upon) to exact the most damage to the opposing players. I just wanted to win and not have these players re-enter the game on the opposite endline. Because then there was the brutal crossfire that would eventually leave you crying or winning. There was no in-between, there was no “participation” trophy. There was just win or lose.
Another sport that I learned in our recreation camp in the summer was “Capture the Flag”. This was a game where the flag would be secured in a forest setting usually with the border of a creek or a ditch being the safety zone. When you crossed over to the enemy territory you would run like your life depended on it to “Capture the Flag”. If you were tagged in the process then you would be led to the jail (usually located near the flag).
If there were enough of your teammates in the jail then it was very difficult to protect your flag as likely you’d be overrun. Then the opposing team would “Capture the Flag”.
All of these wonderful games have probaby disappeared. However, in my day they were the spark that brought out your competitive spirit and as Wide World of Sports would say, “The Thrill of Victory, or the Agony of Defeat”.
Watching sports became a very enjoyable pastime in the sixties for me with the advent of the two football leagues (the AFL and the NFL). The first game I remember watching is what was called “The Ice bowl”. The game in 1967 was played at Lambeau field in Green Bay Wisconsin.
At game time the temperature was 13 degrees. The Green Bay Packers were playing the Dallas Cowboys. The Packers quarterback was Bart Starr. With the temperature 18 degrees below zero and 16 seconds on the clock, Bart Starr ran the ball into the endzone for the game winning touchown. I will never forget that first memory of the National Football League.
I went to many 49er games in the 80’s watching the greatest decade of 49er players ever assembled. That’s truly when I became a 49er faithful watching the team to this day as they amassed five Super Bowls.
Being from the Bay Area I was blessed to watch the San Francisco Giants win three titles as did the Golden State Warriors. The emotion from the players and the fans is truly a script that is never written. To unleash an emotion that only comes after experiencing the ebbs and flows of a whole season is magic.
Playing or watching sports is a gift. The competitive spirit that is intense and focused carries into all facets of life. The stage is different but the relentless will to win in anything that features competition instills the spark that pushes one to victory.