One week ago, Florida State played Florida in their annual college football rivalry game. With a bowl game on the line for the winner, Florida State mounted a 4th quarter comeback and was trailing by just three points, 24-21, with 49 seconds to go. They needed to try an onside kick. Here’s what happened:
Florida State kicker Parker Grothaus nearly whiffed on the ball. Very Charlie Brown. Because the ball didn’t travel 10 yards (heck, it barely traveled 10 inches), Florida took over and ran out the clock.
If anyone feels Parker Grothaus’ pain — other than the Florida State faithful — it’s me. And I’ve got the trophy to prove it.
Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear… the summer of 1972, to be specific. A bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, 8-year-old Dubbatrubba entered the Punt, Pass & Kick competition in Clarksville, Arkansas.
Because 1972 was the first year for the national Punt, Pass & Kick competition, and because Clarksville was (and is) a podunk town, there were only two contestants in my age bracket. Winner moves on to regionals. Gotta like those odds.
True to its name, the competition involved each contestant taking a turn punting the football, then throwing a pass, then kicking. In that order. The attempts were measured by distance, but also had to be in a straight line. For example, if your pass went 25 yards but landed 3 yards away from the tape, you’d get 22 for that attempt. Punt, Pass & Kick yardage was combined. High score wins. Got it? Good.
I went first in each round. My punt went considerably farther than my opponent’s. Ditto for my pass. All that stood between me and gridiron glory was a simple kick. I put the ball on the tee, lined up several yards back, got a running start… and pulled a Parker Grothaus:
There weren’t many “fans” in attendance, mostly just family members and other contestants in the higher age brackets. But as soon as I whiffed, I could hear nothing but laughter.
The loudest laughs were coming from the older brother of my opponent. He happened to be the placekicker for the local high school’s football team. And clearly his younger brother had learned a thing or two from him (nature AND nurture), as he proceeded to kick his football a country mile. Game over.
The only thing that could’ve possibly made it more humiliating would’ve been if Lucy Van Pelt were holding the football for me.
Some wags like to say that “second place is just another name for ‘first loser.'” In this case, that was completely accurate.
I was the walking, talking, non-kicking embodiment of the Ricky Bobby motto:
I still have my trophy. It’s one of the few mementos I have from my Arkansas childhood. As much as I’d love to tell you that I use it to motivate me to try harder and do better in all aspects of my life, that’d be dishonest.
The truth is I probably keep it around because it helps me realize that with time and perspective, even the biggest humiliations aren’t that big of a deal. And because a good story beats a gold trophy every time.
Besides, my opponent probably went up against some freak of nature behemoth like Andy Reid in the regionals.