On a walk late yesterday afternoon, the slight autumn chill in the air, the light, and the changing leaves brought back memories of fall touch football games. Sometimes, we’d just play in the street, but often I would join my friends at Borts Field, two blocks from where I lived. In the fall, there were amateur leagues that played on the weekends and so we even had yard lines marked out.
We’d usually play for an hour or so after school, until it was time to get cleaned up for dinner. And even though it was “touch,” that didn’t mean you didn’t have to clean up, particularly if the field was muddy, which often meant you might slip when you were trying to “cut.”
With touch football, all you needed was a football. The person running or receiving the football was “down” when someone touched them. We usually played “two hand” which was a bit tougher. You could get a bit banged up if two people collided going for a ball, or maybe turn an ankle. But I never remember anyone really getting hurt.
Usually our teams were five or six to a side. On offense, everyone except the quarterback was a receiver. On defense, everyone covered receivers except for one player who “rushed the passer.” There was usually a “count to five” rule before the rusher could touch the quarterback. You could approach, try to block the pass, but they had a “five count” to get the pass off before you went after them. On defense, because I was not the fastest, I usually was the designated rusher.
Offense was more fun. Mostly I blocked for another receiver–hands but no holding–or sometimes got a lateral when someone was about to be touched.
Occasionally we kicked the ball of or punted when someone could do that well, but more often, I recall the kick really being a pass that the other team received. Usually you punted only if three attempts to move the ball from scrimmage failed. In my recall, that didn’t happen very often. If you didn’t score, it usually was the result of a lost fumble or an interception.
We didn’t do penalties. There were no officials. If a play was disputed, we’d usually declare a do-over–no loss of down. Most of the time, most of us wanted to play rather than stand around and argue.
Usually we finished when the first kids had to leave for dinner. By then we’d all worked off that energy that was bottled up while sitting in classes all day. And on those cool autumn days after an hour or so of touch football, we were hungry and dinner always smelled good and tasted better.
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!