From Frederick Exley's 1988 Last Notes from Home:
Was it worth it all? To this day I don't honestly know. I do know that we won and we won and we won. I also know that to win and to win and to win leaves little time for anything or anyone else, including Wiley. I did not learn to play a musical instrument or join the glee club. After that Stetsoned son of the prairie I'd produced in kindergarten, I never did another watercolor. I never tried out for the school play. Even today my ignorance of music appalls me. Writing a speech for President Reagan would be beyond me. I could list the gaps in my education until the reader slumbered. One might well ask, then, if being a jock cost me so dearly in other disciplines, why my feelings are in the least ambivalent. When after World War II we arrived in the presence of the coach, his whole bearing tacitly articulated to his players what he doubtless could not have put into words: Listen to me. Do what I ask. Give me your regard. And I in turn shall show you the way to the world's regard.
"How could you learn anything from a tyrant like that?" Robin said. "And I don't see the bloody relationship between going cold turkey and that bully." Of course Robin knew everything about the Depression, to which we players had been born, from her father and couldn't comprehend the "abhorrent ambivalence" that forced us old farts into speaking of a period of "economic deprivation" -- academic claptrap -- with such loving and mawkish sentimentality.
In my senior year, I told Robin, as starting offensive center and, depending upon who was hurt, either nose guard or linebacker on defense, I cost Watertown an undefeated season. In our fourth game at Auburn High School in gale-like winds and rain, I was called for holding on their one-yard line on fourth down. We scored, had the play nullified, were penalized fifteen yards, and on the replay from sixteen yards out, we failed to put the ball in.
. . .
Because our third game was at Rome Free Academy under the lights on a Friday night, the coaches from the five teams remaining on our schedule were in the stands scouting us. We won 21-0, and the next morning we picked up the newspaper to learn that Dave Powers of Oswego -- he was this venerable white-haired dude who'd been coaching upstate forever -- was quoted as saying we were the best high school football team he'd seen in ten, maybe twenty damn years. I sighed. "Boy, was Auburn waiting for us."
. . .
"That's it, Robin. We blanked the rest of the teams on our schedule, Oswego, Massena -- they came down undefeated with an all-state halfback, Gilbert "Gibby" Granger -- Onondaga Valley of Syracuse, and Lackawanna of Buffalo."
"So every time you go straight, you're making penance for a mistake made in a dumb football game thirty years ago. Jesus, Ex!"
"Not at all."
"If that's not true, when you go on the wagon and start walking, you invoke some mental image of this coach that sustains you?"
"That's easy. When I'm walking, I remember the coach chasing us up the street-light boulevard and snapping our asses with his belt. You see, Robin, he was a teacher in the true sense of the word in that he taught us all we could be someone we never thought we could be."
"Jesus, Exley, I swear you make me want to puke."
Tags: Fred, Frederick Exley, Last Notes from Home