Glory Days, Part II

Glory Days, Part II
In my last story we were reminded of the fact that we have all experienced something from the past that we consider to be noteworthy. We all have a “claim to fame" – “a moment in time." We have all been part of some “Glory Days" from back in the day.
As I reminisce about the past and ponder life’s lessons, I am reminded of something Lou Holtz once stated to his football team at Notre Dame. “You learn more from adversity and your mistakes in life than you do from your success." My second “claim to fame" fits this category to perfection.

In the fall of 1969 the Rangers of Forest Hills were undefeated and met Conemaugh Valley at the Point Stadium in Johnstown in week four of the season. The Blue Jays had one loss, but knowing that their record wasn’t as good as ours was the first sign that the game’s outcome may not be what we expected. A team consisting of young players never prepares the way they should if they think they are better than their opponent. And we thought we were pretty good. As a result, some of us took the game too lightly.

The Jays were loaded. Yewcik, Mesaros, Buchan, Vuckovich….these were some of the names that remained with me throughout the years. And yes, Vuckovich was none other than Pete Vuckovich, who later played professional baseball and became a Cy Young Award winner. The game was played under deplorable conditions. A torrential rain with falling temperatures greeted us at the Point. With our poor mental approach to the game, and the poor field conditions, Conemaugh Valley gave us a good thumping that night (26-16). Personally, I played a lousy game too – losing two fumbles and throwing two interceptions.* Of course, I blamed the adversity on the rain and the wet ball.

Prior to that game (and throughout the season) my coach instructed me to immediately cover the “flat" every time I threw a pass in that area.** It was not a suggestion, it was an order. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I responded to the command so well that it became automatic to me, an involuntary reaction. As soon as I threw a pass to the flat I took off in the same direction. Frankly, I thought it looked odd, even silly. It may have been perceived that I was trying to catch my own pass! But when I forgot to do it early in the season, the wrath of the coach and his thwarting comments eventually taught me that this was a no-win situation. Even though this anomalous practice was brought to my attention by many peers and spectators, and I was never comfortable doing it, I did it anyway. I had to obey! It was an imbedded part of my personality.

The two interceptions that night were both picked off by Pete Vuckovich in the flat. And they would have led to sure defensive touchdowns. But when I covered the area as instructed, guess who made the tackles. Now, how many of you can say you actually tackled a Cy Young Award winner? I can, and that is my second claim to fame in my brief, but not forgotten Glory Days. So what, if I had to mix two sports (football and baseball) to make the connection - at least I made those two tackles. And I wouldn’t have this memory if it weren’t for a coach who prepared me for responding positively to adversity.

You see, before athletes became too knowledgeable to listen to their coaches, there was a player who obeyed robotically. Before parents hammered home the notion that children only get better with success, there were coaches who taught that, “you learn more from adversity." And before a player even thought of doing an assignment “his" way, there was a kid whose desire to succeed gave him the opportunity to tackle a Cy Young Award winner-- twice.

*That memory is still vivid because, when a classmate of mine, Jean Resick gave me a copy of her senior picture, she wrote on the back, “I’ll never forget the time you dropped the ball in the Conemaugh Valley game." For the next 45 years, I have been reminded of that game every time I glanced through my high school yearbook, or my collection of senior pictures.
**The “flat" is an area, not very deep from the line of scrimmage and stretches toward the sidelines.

Enjoy some Glory Days

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA