“Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River”

                                                                                                                       John Denver, “Country Roads”

Among my fondest memories from  my Staten Island childhood are sports memories.  These memories includes my being a quarterback, wide receiver and defensive end.  Yep, I played all three of those positions.

It’s not what you think, though.  I never played one game of organized football, not even youth football.  But, boy, did I have a great time as a football player.

The football that I am talking about involved three, maybe four kids out on the street.  When three of us played someone was designated to be the “official quarterback,” that is he was assigned to be the quarterback on both sides.

The quarterback would set the play. (“Go 15 yards straight, give a head fake left, then head to the fire hydrant on the right and I will hit you just before the sidewalk.”)

There were no parents cheering for us or telling us how wonderful we were and what great football players we would become. In fact nobody ever watched us play.  Nonetheless, we all thought we were heading to the NFL.

On a given Saturday, we would probably played all day, except for the annoying intrusion of having to go inside to eat a bologna sandwich on white bread (maybe with a slice of American cheese) when your mother called you in for a lunch that was wolfed down in seven minutes before heading back out.

It was heaven.

What started me on this nostalgic reverie was last Sunday night, the first night of Daylight Savings Time.  The sun was going down pretty early.  As I was taking the trash out what caught my eye were a couple of the neighbor’s kids throwing a football out on the street and looking like they were having a great time.

They vaguely knew me (you know how it is with neighbor’s kids these days), but I decided to risk it and go up to them to start throwing the football around. Before long we were playing for real.  I was the official quarterback.   We were setting plays and the three of us were in a game.

When a pass was completed, a touchdown made, there was exhilaration.

The kids loved it.  They played until the darkness set in.

Afterward I couldn’t help reflect on the kids and how unusual it is to see this type of play.

As I interact with children daily, I will often ask them to track me through their days.  How do they spend their time?

Except for some type of organized activity (you know, the obligatory karate or soccer), without fail the bulk of their “activity” is in their basement or family room.

The nostalgic play that I think about from childhood (and Sunday night) had key elements that seem missing in this day and age.  Some of these include:

  • Imagination
  • Live, interactive fun
  • Lots of physical activity
  • Arguing (yes, we argued a lot, but we worked it out) and learning to negotiate

Today, it seems all so controlled and if it’s not controlled, it’s controlled by a screen.   Perhaps it has a couple of those above elements, but I don’t think so.

Takeaway Point

I hope those kids are playing next Sunday afternoon.  Maybe I can hit one deep in the end zone.  It will be heavenly.

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