Tucked away in a closet at my father’s house is a 16mm film of a high school football game which took place many years ago. It’s the game in which we beat our cross-county rival for the first time in a decade, our last game of the season, senior year.
I haul out the old projector sometimes when I go back home, watch 22 players struggle on a torn-up field under dim lights in a drizzle steady now for three decades. I recognize every one of our guys– some by jersey number, others by body shape– despite the passage of time and the near darkness.
Late in the fourth quarter I watch myself– skinny, number 12, a boy younger at that time than my own sons are today– gather in a punt and take off through the rain like a chicken with its tail on fire. I make for the near sideline, pick up a block, cut… and run 72 yards for a touchdown.
Please: this was football in a school so small that some of our guys played in the marching band at halftime. We were one win and eight losses as seniors, winless the previous year. Every school our size within 200 miles wanted to schedule us for their homecoming game in order to ensure an easy victory.
But, as players, we got to wear our jerseys to school assemblies and pep rallies, and under-classmen and middle school kids admired us. They were impressed by our varsity letter jackets and manly demeanor. We were small-time, small-town big-shots in the microscopic universe of a tiny Catholic high school in northwest Illinois. Oddly, the painful and embarrassing thrashings we’d endure on Friday evenings in autumn were very quickly forgiven, forgotten.
And then a few weeks ago I opened an envelope from my mom, and inside was a neatly folded obituary which said Roscoe Feeney had passed away in Florida after an extended illness.
He was one of the guys on our team, and if you watch the film, you’ll see him in front of me as I field the punt– he’s the big kid with the curly blonde locks protruding from beneath his helmet, the only one out there in short sleeves. He charges ahead like a freight train and nails one of their guys in a full-out, shoulder-to-chest explosion.
That was Lawrence Archibald “Roscoe” Feeney… nose tackle, garage band drummer, pizza delivery guy and future Florida timeshare salesman… now dressed, blessed, burned and urned in Pensacola.
Roscoe ran with a faster crowd than mine. We had little in common other than that run that night. But it was enough. He came over to the house that year to watch the film, got a kick out of it when I hollered KA-BOOM! as he threw his block.
He took off on a motorcycle after high school, wound up in Texas. A few years ago my brother ran into him, said he hadn’t changed much, was still loud and obnoxious.
I called a friend, asked if he’d heard the news.
“Feeney…,” he said. “Stocky kid? Smelled like Elmer’s glue?”
“I’ll be damned. Feeney. Wow. Damn. Hey, do you still have my Weed Wacker?”
The obit was short on details, but it identified a sister, Deborah, living in Des Moines. I found her phone number, called to offer my condolences, told her I’d be happy to send her a copy of the game film. I had a few discs burned, sent her a couple and kept the rest.
There we are, young men in the rain at night under the lights, our long suffering friends and parents in the stands wrapped in raincoats, huddled beneath umbrellas and plastic tarps.
Late in the fourth quarter, Roscoe Feeney, in high-top black shoes, lowers his shoulder and hits this big guy, their number 59– nails him right between the 5 and the 9, annihilates him, launches him… and opens up the sideline for a skinny kid who, if you look closely, is clearly running for his life.