He Couldn't Do Nothing

His name escapes me and so does the position he played. He was on the offensive line somewhere on the junior high football team I coached in the latter 1970's. But what he did, or should I say what he failed to do, has stuck with me like glue under a dental crown for forty years.

Anyone who watches and understands football knows that the quarterback will sometimes bellow out a hard cadence or snap count, without the center hiking the ball, to get the opposition's defense to move into the neutral zone. This is an off-side penalty and an easy five yard gain for the offense.

On the professional or collegiate level, the trick is successful just now and then throughout a season. On the junior high school level though, the gimmick has a much greater chance of success. Of course, your own players can't move or the offense will get called for the infraction, and the team will have to back up five yards.

Perhaps it was my obsessive compulsion that drove me to try this form of trickery over and over again. This coach was not about to give up on a chance to gain five free yards. So, for the first half of the season, we rehearsed the hard count in practice to perfection. We not only used it when running offensive plays, I also implemented the second or third “hut” or second and third whistle during sprints and other forms of conditioning as well.

We had it down pat – in practice, that is. During games, we jumped early every single time.

So, one evening during practice I decided on another course of action. Instead of just changing the snap count on the play that was called, I changed the entire name of the play. The quarterback, George Eckenroad, was instructed to call the play by its new name, the do nothing play. I figured that a young player, excited about doing well in a game, would be less likely to jump offside if there was no one assigned for him to block – the assignment was simply to do nothing.

Again, we had it down in practice to perfection. George was told to call a timeout if the opposition didn't jump, and I was prepared to waste one of the precious timeouts if I had to.

Still, based on our past performances with the gimmick play, I didn't feel good about our chances of success. So, I told the players that if anyone jumped on the do nothing play, he'd have to take a lap around the field during the game in front of all the students and parents in attendance – and he would have to do this with his helmet off, so everyone would know who the bozo was that could not do nothing.

[Author's note: In retrospect, I should have remembered something taught to me many years ago during my student teaching experience. A wise cooperating teacher once suggested that a teacher or coach should never make a rule and indicate the punishment for breaking that rule, unless he or she is prepared to back it up.]

The kids knew I was serious this time, so we came up with an array of strategies during the week of practice, to help them remember to do nothing during our next game if indeed the play was called. We had to be careful though, that we didn't give away our trick count to the opposing defense. So, the players were informed to communicate aloud to each other with phrases like, “think” or “use your head,” and “no one to block,” and so on. They shouted these hints aloud every time we broke the huddle during practice. And they were to do the same thing during game time.

I vividly recall the look on George's face as I gave him the do nothing play at our next game, and he could have earned an academy award for the manner in which he sold that snap count. Heck, as the signals were barked, I almost jumped onto the playing field myself from the coach's box.

Sure enough, everyone remained motionless as instructed, except for one player. On all fours and his head protruding into the neutral zone, and cocked to look at me, he reminded me of a timid turtle checking out his surroundings.

I said nothing. I only pointed toward the cinder track that encircled the football field. The poor kid took off his helmet and proceeded to take his lap in total humiliation.

The lessen though, had been learned. We called the do nothing play a few more times throughout the remaining games and no one jumped off sides that I can recall. But, I never again used that methodology as a punishment. And I've felt horrible about it ever since.

It's way over-due, but it's time I apologize to that gridiron warrior. So today, in this public forum, I sheepishly must say that I'm sincerely sorry to the lad who could not do nothing – and I ask for your forgiveness.

I hope too, that he learned that it's perfectly okay to do absolutely nothing at times in life simply because it's good therapy for all of us. When one has a chance to do nothing, he or she should not pass it up.

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