As Dave Devoto spoke, as his speech quickened, as the frown went to a smile, time and place didn't matter. It was a football story, a really good one. It needed no context, no set-up. It stood on its own.
"Every time I came off the line of scrimmage," Devoto said, "Bob Strong would hit me in the face. Sometimes it would be with his forearm. Sometimes it would be with his fist. Yes, that's right, his fist. He'd punch me and keep punching me on almost every play.
"Late in the game we ran a play to the other side of the field. I went after Strong: I'll teach that SOB something. He never saw me coming. Knocked him flat. Really hit him. Man, it felt good. I felt ecstatic. He got up. He was hot. I got three punches in before the officials kicked me out of the game."
Dave Devoto is 81 years old. Does his story feel 81 years old? Does it feel as if it should be dismissed because it happened back-in-the-day when there were leather helmets? Does it feel somehow irrelevant because a player at that time was thought huge if he weighed 240 pounds?
Not if you believe that the elemental nature of the game is perpetually young and vibrant.
Not if you believe that what attracted Devoto to play football in 1950 was the very same thing that makes football America's most popular sport 63 years later.
In fact, a description of taking a fist repeatedly in the puss without a facemask or mouth guard spikes more curiosity than a player trying to poke his finger into the roll cage that passes for a helmet these days.
"When you told that story," I asked Devoto, "does it appear so vivid that you feel young again?"
"Absolutely," Devoto said.
Don't think those with gray hair or no hair or those with a halting gait lack significance. Lenny Wagner, SRJC's head football coach and the school's acting athletic director, doesn't think so. Wagner asked members of the 1950 SRJC football team to speak to his players before the Bear Cubs played Butte College on Oct. 18.
Why that team? Why have eightysomethings speaking to teenagers? Teach them how to use a walker? No, Wagner brought the old guys in front of the kids because that 1950 football team went 12-0, an SRJC record that has stood for 63 years. Records, like stories, never go to the grave, never vanish from memory. A thing worth keeping is a thing worth keeping forever.
"I told them what Harry Truman once said," said running back Bob Taylor, now 84, "It's amazing what can be accomplished if you don't care who gets the credit."
Ask any coach today in any sport what is his or her biggest challenge. The coach will tell you it's getting the players to believe what Harry Truman said. Sure, have an ego; every accomplished athlete has one. In fact, have a big ego. Make it huge, ginormous even. Just keep a seat belt on that bad boy.
In 1950 those guys played together and then took it one step further. They did something so well, people will thank them forever.
Since 1987 the SRJC Football Scholarship Fund has awarded $15,300 to players leaving the school to continue their college education. The eightysomethings would like to believe their legacy is not that 12-0 record as much as it is that scholarship fund.
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