In a scrapbook, I have a yellowed newspaper clipping of the team picture of the 1971 Northside Browns, undefeated champions of the Monroe Grade Football League’s sixth-grade division who, minutes before, finished thrashing the South Raiders 13-0 for the touch-football title. I’m in the back row, on the left, clashing ridiculously in a striped shirt and striped pants of entirely different patterns, hands on hips, doing my best to look like a grizzled gridiron warrior flush with victory.
The moment the photo is taken marks the pinnacle of my sorry athletic career. I wasn’t much of a contributor to the championship. The city park and rec department made the schedule and provided officials, but the teams had no coaches, so we scrubs had to depend on the starters to take themselves out of the game to let us play, which they rarely did. But I was there, and I remember the feeling, on those golden September and October afternoons, as deliciously intense. The outcome of those touch-football games mattered to me in a way very few things have mattered since.
But what I remember most about those games now, more than the intensity and more than my teammates, is the light. We’d stand there on the field with the late afternoon sun in our eyes and the shadows lengthening, and if we looked around, over the baseball diamonds and the swimming pool and the shelter houses, we’d see the trees in Recreation Park crowned with color and glowing in that light.
It's a scene that frequently replays itself in my head, especially on these afternoons when September gives way to October. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go play outside.