My summer vacation officially ended as of 7:30 last night, when the first big Friday night of high school football began. (Effectively, though, it had ended more than a month earlier, when the Redskins began training camp.)
And it brought back a few memories, as it always does.
Most of them occurred when the teams were running onto the field, because, well, that's at a time when I can let my mind wander. And it took me back to my old days in Lehighton.
My days in the locker room, pre-game, were mixed. In 10th and 11th grades, when I knew I wouldn't play unless we were kicking ass (or, rarely, getting our ass kicked), the experience was pretty relaxed. A nearby friend and I would joke in hushed tones, as to not upset the vibe that was dictated by the seniors.
In 12th grade, it was different, when I was the one trying to psyche myself up. Plus, by then, we had moved into a different corner, one that was usually claimed by the seniors, since they had first choice of where they wanted to set up their locker. (In college and pro sports, locker room location is a big deal, one that is taken care of by the manager or coach. In the Nationals' locker room, position players occupy most of the right side and part of the back row, while relief pitchers are to the left and starters in the other part of the back row.)
Coming out of the locker room was always the same for me. As one of the linemen, I spent the most time in there and came out last. (Kickers and returners went first; skill positions a little later; and us last.) We'd go and do our stretching and a few warm-up drills, then come back inside.
"OK, let's go," one of the coaches would say before we left the field house for the final time. Then we'd all pile up at the far end of the room, where we always left when heading to the field for a game. There were double doors there. Above them was a sign that said, "Through this door go the best damn kids in the world."
We'd file out behind the field house and head towards the field, coming from the back. We'd make our way onto the cinder track, pause for one of those group celebrations and then run through the cheerleader column to ours, the far sideline.
Once there, we'd all gather in a tight circle with our coach in the middle. He'd give us a few quick words of encouragement - the "official" pre-game speech was in the locker room - and he'd always use this a traditional ending: "We're gonna go out there and grab these [opponents' mascot - i.e. Cardinals, Bombers, Cavaliers, Mounties, etc.] right by the balls and what are we gonna do?!"
In unison, all of us: "Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze!" (Trust me, it sounder better in quick succession and with a bunch of dudes yelling it. As a youngster, I had always wondered what the hell they were yelling.)
More on my pre-game favorites later. Time to go get some lunch. I'm in Richmond for tonight's Nextel Cup race, and the woman at McDonald's screwed up my order this morning. (I wanted two bacon, egg & cheese biscuits, not one.) Sustaining a fat guy takes, well, sustenance. And I'm about to go get me some.