The feel of football season

Sep 2, 2012 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

You know it even if you're nowhere near a practice field or a stadium.

We walked out of a store in the failing light last week. The sun had set a few minutes befor,e and the cool wind of evening eased in from the west as if on cue.

The pavement radiated the heat of the day with the breeze diffusing the heat waves in a dance as old as time itself.

The smell of fast food took me back on a brief trip to a time long ago.

It felt like football season.

As kids we practiced in the afternoon during the pre-season on the now-defunct field at Morton. If we didn't have hay to stack or water to set after practice, we often drove the 25 miles to Riverton and wasted a glorious evening at the old A&W on West Main.

A few years later, with conditions just a bit hotter, the air a bit thicker, and with no mountains in view, I was coaching the Tigers in Lusk. The Lusk Bar-B-Cue was even a good substitute for the A&W.

To a football fan the gradual change in weather in late August is one of the surest signs of the impending season. Catch the smell of burgers on the grill wafting over the field in the early evening, and you get a taste or nirvana.

My views of football have changed over the years. In those first seasons in Lusk it was pure enjoyment, with every game a matter much more important than life or death. After each game we'd gather at head coach Jerry Fullmer's house and catch the scores on K-2 News out of Casper. Long before the Internet our only source of information came via KTWO or sometimes on a call to the 800 number on the AP sports hotline.

In the three decades since those days in Lusk, I've coached football off and on for 20 years. Watching my nephews play at Wind River and then my own son rise from the ranks of the RJFL through his college seasons at Dickinson State altered my approach to the game with each passing year.

Junior high kids were, well, they were just kids. My image of high school and college athletes changed as well.

Even my image of professional athletes has changed over time.

I've had the chance to coach and coach against three NFL players over the course of my career. Riverotn's own Willie Wright was the first. Willie excelled at Wyoming then had a brief career with the Cardinals before returning to his love of music.

John Burroughs was a formidable post player for the Pinedale Wranglers in 1989 and a championship triple jumper. Dick Cotton and I had a great weekend coaching John and some other handpicked all-stars in a local tournament. John went on to a six-year career with the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings.

Knowing these pros as kids made watching them on Sunday afternoon that much more enjoyable.

The final player proves the adage of "it doesn't matter where you're from, it's how good you are."

Greybull's Bret Keisel was a good high school football player but perhaps a better basketball player at the Class 2-A level. The Buffs were eliminated by my old Lusk Tigers in howling windstorm in Niobrara County during his senior football season, but they were state basketball champs behind Bret's unstoppable low post play.

I interviewed Bret last month at the Pittsburgh Steeler training camp at St. Vincent's College east of the Steel City for the second time in four years.

Bret enters his 11th year as a stalwart of the Steeler defensive line. Once known for his speed alone, he is now a powerful run defender as well.

In the words of perhaps the greatest Steeler of all time, "Mean" Joe Green (who I also interviewed this summer) "Bret is a powerful man. He is the leader of the defensive line."

Only two defensive players have more time in the league than Bret, and his experience is a key to the Steeler defense this season.

You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy. On opening day of training camp players arrived in their personal vehicles or had their wives drop them off.

There weren't any limousines at camp as the Steelers are a blue collar team in perhaps America's greatest blue collar city.

Bret drove 20 miles to camp in a Kubota tractor with his camp clothes riding in the bucket. As annoyed drivers whipped around the slow moving tractor they were quick to recognize No. 99 and waved emphatically.

Only a farm boy from Big Horn County Wyoming could pull off a stunt like this.

Bret's love of his home state extended to a donation he made to Rock River High School. Rock River didn't have the budget to fund a 6-man football team, so Bret put up $5,000. The NFL matched it.

The Longhorns will play a JV schedule this fall thanks to his generosity.

Its football season again, and Friday started the annual rite of passage for another group of young men.

Salute, it's time for kickoff.

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