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The best football game I ever played

Dec 22, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

The players ranged from age 10 to 40, and no one wore a team uniform.

Does your mind ever wander during long meetings, sermons or while you're required to be listening to the latest trend at work? I have to confess that some of my best ideas come to me while I'm supposed to be paying attention to someone else.

You might call these moments little epiphanies, or perhaps just bursts of insight, but it seems that chaining the mind to a task unleashes other areas of the brain in surprisingly creative ways.

Sometimes it's not a creative burst but simply a chance prompt that sends you back in time to a distant memory.

The holiday season, that annual celebration from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day, often creates memories that last a lifetime and some of our strongest are tied to this time.

My first vivid memory of a football game came just prior to Thanksgiving on the eve of my 12th birthday in the infamous event known as the "Heidi Bowl." We lived at Mather Air Force Base in a suburb of Sacramento, Calif., and I was just beginning to enjoy football.

The Oakland Raiders were the local team, and they trailed Joe Namath and the New York Jets late in the game. NBC decided to pre-empt the game with 65 seconds remaining and the Jets holding a three-point lead to show the made-for-TV movie "Heidi."

In the space of just nine seconds Oakland scored two touchdowns in one of the most improbable endings in NFL history.

No game has ever been pre-empted for similar reasons since.

During the 45 years that followed that game, football has taken a prominent place in my life. Playing pickup games with my friends in junior high, and a less-than-stellar experience at Wind River High School from 1972 to 1974 playing for the Cougars, set the stage for a life with substantial portions of it set aside for the gridiron.

Bits and pieces of memory emerge like flotsam after a summer rain when it comes to my high school football career. Sights, sounds and smells sometimes bring back vivid memories of those long ago days, but mostly it's just my creaky knees in the morning that bring me back.

As a college student pickup games were part of the daily ritual. One of the most memorable came at 3 a.m. on one of those rare days in Laramie when the snow fell vertically, also in the holiday season just before the semester break.

Somebody woke up and saw 18 inches of new snow on our playing field. He quickly woke us all up, and we played tackle in the fresh power under the lights in frigid conditions until the cafeteria opened for breakfast. None of us went to class that morning.

I never kept close track of wins and losses as some coaches do, but eventually I coached more than 200 games as a head or assistant coach. Some of the plays come to the surface easily while most lie dormant, waiting for some inane stimulus to bring them back to life.

Once, with the game a scoreless deadlock late in the second period, we had a fourth and seven near midfield against Pinedale in the Class B state championship game at Lusk. I was just 24 years old. My parents, sister and brother-in-law and soon-to-be wife Sue were in the stands.

My favorite play in those days was a fake punt with a short snap to the fullback in Lusk's tight formation. Head coach Jerry Fullmer called the play, Cody Sturman snapped it directly to Kevin Ellis, and he rumbled to the 6-yard line. We won the state title 21-0 that wintry afternoon.

Coaching in Riverton and Shoshoni, and reporting games played by all the schools in the county, have given me many games to watch, but none came close to the standard of a game played long ago on a perfect, late-autumn afternoon in Denver.

The Hahn family gathered in the city for Thanksgiving. While it was usually a day for food, football and sleep, this day was different.

After dinner the guys started to watch the Detroit Lions game, but few of us had an interest in it.

My brothers-in-law Dan and Pete were former players, and the next generation ranged from my son Brian at age 10 to our nephew Dave at 25. Dave, Aaron and Mark were still playing college volleyball in California or recently graduated. Their stepbrother Dan was a freshman in college, and our other nephews, Sean and Kevin, were both in high school. Even up the sides and you had the makings for a good game of five on five.

We loaded up and headed to a local elementary school with a big grassy area. It was fun to watch the college kids underestimate their uncles and their younger cousins. Brian and I played catch a lot in those days, and on one play his overconfident cousins let the little kid get behind them and I hit him in stride for a score.

After two hours the older men had enough, and the boys were hungry again.

It's a strange tribute to memory, but that's the best game I've ever played in.

A wandering mind is a terrible thing to waste, especially around Christmas.

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Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator.

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