“A little ditty, about Jack and Di-aaane…”
My high school pal Dave Hansen would be singing the song as he sauntered up to the line of scrimmage, where he would get down into his four-point stance opposite me, as I prepared to snap the ball.
It was football practice at Saugus High, the fall of 1983.
I played center. Dave played defensive line. And he was always in a jovial mood right before we lined up, ready to knock the snot out of each other.
Well. Eighty-five or 90% of the snot, anyway. It WAS practice after all. No one ever really went 100% in practice.
“Two American kids growin’ up, in the heartland…”
“Blue, 26! Blue, 26!” My other pal, quarterback Russ Hoglund, would bark out the signals, as Dave’s musical solo proceeded unabated.
“Jackie’s gon’ be, a FOOTBALL sta-aaar…”
“Diane’s a debutante, back seat, of Jackie’s car…”
I’d snap the ball to Russ, and Dave and I would launch our 17-year-old shoulders into each other, the shoulder pads piercing the air with that distinctive “crack!” sound as we grunted and made a show out of hitting the hell out of each other, but not quite as hard as we’d really hit the opponent in a game — just hard enough to satisfy the coaches.
You keep those memories with you forever. The long afternoons spent running the same plays, over and over again, against your buddies, trying to get it just right. The Friday night lights at College of the Canyons, where we played our home games. The sights and sounds, the crowds, the bands, the cheerleaders….
The postgame meals at Bob’s Big Boy, and the post-postgame parties, where you’d celebrate your youth, win or lose, invincible, into the wee hours of Saturday morning, curfew be damned…
Winning was better of course. My junior year, I wasn’t a starter — it was my first season of tackle football ever, having grown up playing hockey, not football. So I played mostly special teams that year, and we did our fair share of winning. By my senior year, I was a starter. But drat the timing: We were awful. I used to tell people I was on Saugus’ last good football team of the ’80s… and the first bad one.
I still wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.
My last football game in the fall of 1983 was my last football game. As is the case for the vast majority of football players, high school was the end of the line for me.
The following spring, I would contemplate playing college football. I’d even visited a university football practice, but in the end I decided it wasn’t for me, in a year when I really had no idea what my future held, or even what I wanted my future to hold.
That long walk up the steps to the locker room at Cougar Stadium was longer than ever on that cold, final night in November 1983, our cleats on the concrete steps making the only sound. A couple of us, dejected over that final loss, tossed our mouthpieces into the bushes by the steps, knowing we’d never need them again. A small part of me likes to think that mouthpiece is still there, nearly 40 years later.
For most of us, it was the last time we’d put on football pads.
No more Friday night lights, no more Bob’s Big Boy, no more postgame parties where we’d tell the girls exaggerated tales of our gridiron exploits, no more awful renditions of “Jack & Diane” breaking up the doldrums of a long practice on a crisp fall afternoon.
But we, the kids of the Class of 1984, got to experience and keep all those memories. Every single one. The good and the bad. Mostly good, despite the games we lost. We were cheated out of nothing. In our hearts and our minds, forever, those football memories are something that can never be taken from us.
And that’s why my heart breaks for the Class of 2021.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal.