Remember when I decapitated that running back?

August 26, 2012 

(Before you get too alarmed by that headline, know that I in no way advocate the decapitation of quality running backs. Not only are good running backs hard to find, but that could result in a 15-yard penalty. Now, on with today's column.)

We've all heard Grandpa's war stories and Cousin Hank's fishing and hunting stories, so we know how the truth can get stretched as time goes on. Grandpa might have actually just won a marksmanship badge with an elite team of Cub Scouts, but after a few decades the story becomes how he took out a whole German division with only three bullets. And we all know a four-inch bluegill can turn into a 10-pound bass in a matter of hours.

Amazingly enough, we even start to believe our own lies after a while. During a snorkeling trip this past April, I came face to face with a six-foot shark. By the time I'm 70 years old, I have no doubt that same shark will be Moby Dick with sharper teeth and a worse disposition.

But perhaps nowhere does the truth get stretched over time more than it does in the memories of athletes, especially old football players. Even young football players. Just last week, my stepson made a great tackle for a loss in a scrimmage, and by the time we got home 20 minutes later, we were convinced that the high school would erect a bronze statue recreating the hit heard 'round the world.

That's just how it goes. Here's how a basic tackle progresses in the memory of a football player.

Age 15: Cool! I got credit for a tackle when I all I did was trip over my shoelaces and land on that Southside High running back, and I didn't even know he had the ball.

Age 16: I remember one game last year when I burst through the line and laid out that star running back for Southside.

Age 18: I know we haven't won a game in three years, but at least I had the Hit of the Decade on that kid from Southside. I just hope he didn't suffer any brain damage.

Age 21: Hmm, I think that running back for Auburn is that same kid from Southside I almost killed when I leaped over the entire offensive line that time and knocked his chin to the other side of his head. I guess he got back on solid food.

Age 30: Yeah, I could have been an NFL star, but nobody would recruit me because I hit too hard. I remember this one game, I broke two offensive linemen's legs and decapitated a Southside running back. He got a 15-yard penalty for taking off his helmet until they found his head was still in it. Then they cut it down to a 5-yard penalty.

Age 50: It was the state championship. We were undefeated. Playing Southside. Fourth and goal. Two seconds to play. They needed a touchdown to win. I threw a 400-pound guard out of my way and hit that running back so hard that he lost 54 teeth and cracked 22 ribs.

Age 70: Super Bowl. Fourth and goal. I was so tough that Coach took 10 players out and left me on the field by myself. I fought off nine blockers and hit that kid so hard they are still finding pieces of his body in the field today.

Age 85: Southside High School's field was covered in snow, and it was uphill both ways to the end zone. We had to put hot potatoes in our pants to stay warm. I hit that running back so hard, he had mashed potatoes in his pants.

Age 100: Football? Naw, I ain't never played football. But did I tell you about the time I singlehandedly wiped out the Germans' whole 8th Infantry with only a BB gun? It was cold, negative-125 degrees. I was airdropped behind enemy lines. Without a parachute. Hadn't eaten in four weeks ...

Chris Johnson is an independent correspondent. Follow him at

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