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The Shepherd's Heart: No highlight reels -- just plain fun

Thursday, December 4, 2008

When I was a much younger person, my family lived on a street in a neighborhood near the inner core of Kansas City. The people there were friendly folks, mostly first- or second-generation Italian Americans who loved being there. The neighborhood has changed now, and is showing the signs of urban blight. Mom and Dad have moved to the suburbs to be closer to family, and hopefully a bit safer.

But I still have fond memories of those days on Montgall Avenue. One of those memories centers around one of our favorite pastimes. My brothers and I used to spend our fall Saturday and Sunday afternoons playing football in the street.

Boundaries were easy enough. Sidelines consisted of the curbs on either side of the street, and the field ran from the telephone in front of Mr. Covan's house to the telephone pole in front of the Prices' place.

Play calling was challenging, but allowed for a great deal of creativity.

"Go past the brown car and do a button-hook."

"Go five steps and turn around at Mr. Sneed's driveway."

"Break left just past the white car and go for the end zone."

"Cut toward the curb just past Anthony's car and I'll hit you with a pass just before you step out of bounds."

And there was always the "three-second-rule" which said the defense had to count to three before rushing the quarterback.

On the north end of the imaginary field, one could even score a field goal or extra point by kicking the ball over the telephone line that ran from the pole on the west side of the street to the next-door-neighbor's house.

Sometimes, the cars lining the street were an asset to the team marching down field -- blocking for them on a quick slant or making a good place to put a move on some unsuspecting defender. At other times, like when the receiver wasn't paying close enough attention, the cars could take you out of the play altogether. Ouch!

Kids would come from several blocks away, and from up and down our street, to play street ball with us. Some would rise to the occasion and get tougher as the game progressed. Others would get hurt on the first or second play of the game and then sit on the curb and whine while we ran up and down the asphalt gridiron without them.

There were days when the neighbor across the street would complain because the ball took an errant bounce and landed in his yard. Dad would always side with us, get the ball back from the cranky neighbor, and the problem would go away until another day.

We would occasionally get rained out -- "You boys get in out of the rain!" But we seldom let snow or cold wind interfere with our outings. And we always had a blast.

Those were magical times. No highlight reels -- just plain fun.

"Hey -- I wanted to be quarterback this time!"

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BOB G. STEWART, Columnist
The Shepherd's Heart