We’re practicing in the park across from the Zoo in the big meadow next to the golf course. Our Coach, Duke Donovan, has us run tackling drills over mud puddles. He blows his whistle and says huddle up men. It’s either a dirty joke or three laps for the fumble on the last play. We circle around, 11- and 12-year-olds of the St. Mark’s Lions 90-pound football team.
He’s probably 30, younger than our Dads. And bigger: tall and broad like a real football player. He tells us spent a training camp with the Bills getting a look at backup quarterback. Until his knee blew. When I tell my father that Duke had a tryout with the Bills he shakes his head and scoffs. That man drives a truck for the parks department, my father says. A lot of parents don’t like Duke. He has a foul mouth and doesn’t live in our parish, but there is no one else who can hold practice four days a week at four o’clock in the afternoon. He’s married and tells us that Danny junior and his wife he says he jumps every night will be at our first game this weekend.
So let’s practice hard, men, and practice fiercely. He wants us to learn complicated pro-style sets and signals. Pre-snap motion. Audibles. We screw up. I’m a skinny lineman without a clue and have very little football aptitude. I smack into the kid across from me and if I’m still standing after the collision I look for the ball. Duke demonstrates blocking technique and says it’s five laps for anyone who helmets him in the jewels. We love that term jewels and take it home with us.
In closer, he says. We gather tight, circling Duke on all sides. He drops to one knee and recites a filthy poem about Dicky Dunkin when the frost is on the pumpkin. He repeats it a few times so we all remember. Then he stands and looks around. There’s a man walking his dog and two women jogging on the perimeter path. Duke gets his shit grin going and he whips it out and pisses right in the middle of the field while we provide cover for him, his dick hanging like a fire hose from his fly. Later in practice, he slaps around Chris Murrett for dropping a screen pass who starts to cry and later tells his mother.
Our game is Saturday, a perfect September morning. The Williamsville Marines wear black and silver uniforms like the Raiders and they all seem bigger than us despite the 90-pound weight limit. Our jerseys are gold with faded bleach spots and sewn-on maroon numerals with loose stitching. Duke shows up in a three-piece suit and football spikes. He swears up and down the sideline in front of all the parents and our priest as we humiliate him in a 63-0 loss.
We finish the season 0-7 season and Duke is fired by the PTA. The story got around about whipping it out to piss and so did the jokes. Next we heard he was coaching a basketball team at the public school. In the Spring we rode our bikes to his neighborhood a few times and hung out with him to hear his stories.