Run For Your Life

Posted on October 1, 2014 under Storytelling with no comments yet


An X – planation



Run to the hills, run for your lives – Iron Maiden

You can smell fall in the air. The days are shorter and cooler and the leaves are just starting to turn colour.  The rhythm of life has resumed and we feel some form of normalcy after a summer of road trips, vacations and visitors.  And in a university town, the return of the students is a sure sign that summer is in the rear view mirror.

Living in such a town, you take the good with the bad. An influx of 4500 young people is good for the economy, even though the townspeople have to put up with a fair amount of shenanigans.

For as long as I can remember, St. F. X has had a stellar reputation in the sports arena.  Several of our teams have won conference titles, and a handful of squads have brought home national honors; most recently our women’s rugby team.

In the 1960’s it could have been argued that football was the most successful program at X under the steady and sometimes unyielding hand of Don Loney.  He had played professional ball and knew a lot about recruiting.  He tapped into large talent pools in Ontario and Quebec and was not reluctant to go south of the border into the New England States to find hot prospects.

Some of you might even remember hearing on the sports report, “He has recruited an end from New York”.

High school football was virtually non-existent in this province at that time so it was very rare to see a local boy on the gridiron.

As a youngster I patrolled the sidelines as a water boy for the St. F. X. football team. I watched Loney’s men rack up impressive and sometimes jaw dropping wins, year after year.  I clearly remember the scene in the locker room prior to each home game.  Don Loney had come from a military background and sometimes I wondered if the football team wasn’t just another battalion.  The pre-game ritual included rousing marches pumped into the dressing room to fire up the troops.  Snoop Doggy Dog would not have been impressed.

Eventually the rest of the conference caught up to Loney’s coaching and recruiting prowess, and by the early 70’s parity among the Atlantic universities had arrived.

In the fall of 1972, during my second year at X, I was the equipment manager for the football team. When the squad was out training and all of my duties had been fulfilled, I hung out with the punters.  That years’ assemblage was weak.  I’m being charitable.  As a water boy years earlier, Loney had taught me how to boot a football.  And so I could often be found kicking the ball around with the punters during practice.

The Friday before the first exhibition game, Loney tapped me on the shoulder and instructed me to go in and put on some gear. He wanted to see how I could do punting a football in full gear with twelve angry men running in my direction.  Saying no was not presented as an option.

You must be aware of two things: I was a scrawny specimen at the time and I had an enormous head of hair. Finding suitable equipment was a challenge … especially the helmet.

I ended up becoming the starting punter and in that exhibition match that weekend I happened to score the winning point. You could almost see the headlines in the paper: “Local Boy Does Good”.  It did cause quite a stir and there was a group of local businessmen who showed up at every practice to watch a new local legend.  Levi from the radio station referred to me as Leonardo de Punt.

The legend was short lived. As I mentioned earlier, the other teams in the league had caught up to X and that year was certainly the beginning of the end of the Loney era.  Our season ending game was a thriller … a 2-1 loss at Dalhousie.  That was as close as I ever saw the tough guy come to tears.

Homecoming is always a special time at any university. At St. F. X. the football game is still the centerpiece of the weekend.

Homecoming 1972. The grandstands at Oland Stadium were jam packed on a magnificent sun draped day.  The air was electric and we were primed to put on a great show for the alumni.  Early on in the game we were deep in our own end in a third down kicking position.  I trotted onto the field prepared to launch the pigskin.  In order to execute a good punt you must first receive the football from the center.  The ball sailed over my head.  I wouldn’t be kicking this ball.

A few weeks earlier, Loney had had a chat with me. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was never to run with the football. Ever.  He didn’t want to have a fatality on his hands.  I was told that in the unlikely event that the snap from the center was poor I was to simply fall on the ball and play dead.

I picked up the ball and turned around. I had visions of Pamplona and the running of the bulls.  Several very large, angry men were heading in my direction.  I did what any self-respecting long haired hippie would do.  I ran.

Fear is a tremendous motivator. I knew that I was not one of the fastest runners on that particular squad but on that day, at that particular moment, I discovered a gear I never knew existed.  I dodged a few of the slow linemen and headed for daylight.  I could hear the snarling and panting of the linebackers as they hunted me down.  Sixty yards later, I gingerly (and wisely) stepped out of bounds.

I was on the far sideline and had to make my way across the field. The roar from the crowd was deafening.  I had survived … for the time being.  I knew that I was about to come face to face with Don Loney.

As expected, I was in a wee bit of trouble. Hard on the heels of the old cigar butt angrily tossed at my feet was a list of expletives that only a seaman could appreciate.  He was furious that I had taken my life into my hands and that I had disobeyed his orders.  Remember – he was in the military and in that world disobedience is never tolerated.

My football career lasted one short season.

I thought about joining the track team the following year … as a sprinter.

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