The dog, well, at first it didn't look like a dog Friday night. Black and white, quite cylindrical, it looked like one of those fluffy, rotating shoe-shine spindles you see at airports for a quick buff. One of the game officials spied it running onto the field and usually you don't continue to play football when there's an animal underfoot. Ah, but this was eight-man football, in the country, where the threshold of tension is considerably lower than in other places.
The game official stared at the pooch romping around the 10-yard line on the west side, saw a man running after it, judged the dog would be caught soon and so, with 7:53 left in the first quarter, the official shrugged, deciding to let Laytonville and Mendocino play on.
Sure, the two undefeated high school teams were playing for the NCL III title, serious business, of course. But these were two small schools playing in a small town. In those surroundings, removed of neon and glitz, the game, the players, the people, everything felt more intimate. What might be ignored in a big city wasn't here. Everything stood out.
Like a single voice from the stands screaming at the officials. One screaming voice above five others sounds like a ship's bell compared with the blending of one voice among 100 of — how shall I say — enthusiasts? One game official told me, unlike other places, you could hear every word here, proving quite clearly the people in the north country have quite a florid imagination.
Like the "Pour Girls Coffee" shop a few blocks away. I suspected something was up when I saw the hair salon — "It Takes Two To Tangle." Yeah, if you're going to work in Laytonville, you'd better have an imagination to get people to turn off Highway 101 as they speed through. Because there isn't a single red light to stop you. Which goes a long way in explaining why you had to do a double-take when you saw the stuffed monkey in a bird cage at "The Sacred Dog," a collectibles store.
Quirky, odd, different, this town of 1,133 souls offers the perfect antidote to lowering the thermostat of not only stress but reshaping the way we view football.
"In the beginning I didn't think I'd like eight-man football at all," said Laytonville quarterback Russell Kaser.
The field is 80 yards long, not 100, with the midfield stripe at the 40-yard line. It is also 40 yards wide, not 53. Until last year, Laytonville was playing the 11-man game and the field was 100 yards long.
So, enter another quirky Laytonville fact: The goal post in the east end zone cannot be used for an extra point or a field-goal attempt because it resides out of the field of play; it is the goal post from the 100-yard field. The school decided not to uproot it and move it closer to the 80-yard eight-man field because money could be saved. So if a team wants to kick an extra point or attempt a field goal to the east goal post, the team turns around and points to the west for the kick.
It sounds like a lot of work and it is, which is why in Friday's game and in all others, teams ran or passed for two-point conversions.