Web writes: "When I soldiered during the Cold War in Europe, I ran across an old friend I had played ball with. He was German extracted and was not in U.S. armed forces. He was just living there. Then I heard about a football game where a player had vanished under a pile of players. I put the two together and came up with this semi-fiction yarn."
A Fog-bound Deliverance
Playing fullback was not my choice. But there I was, playing at full in the
annual football Halloween Bowl against Sandpoint Naval Air Station,
The Sandpoint Navalairs, a service team imported for our annual mud bath and beak tweak, was supposed to be a walk, but the gold-and-black visitors were surprisingly tough, especially between the tackles.
Quarterback Jason Getz slipped me the slimey pigskin and I headed left off tackle when one of our bohunks missed his block and Mr. Navalair meanie -- he was big and becoming a menace -- grabbed me around the waist and buried me in the stinking, squishy muck for no gain.
We were on the Navalairs’ 19 yard line at the east end of soggy Stewart Field, hard by the Wishkah River. We were behind 7-6, and it was already the third quarter.
That was third down. Now it was fourth. We needed to get to the 14 for a first down. We couldn’t punt because we were too close to goal. We didn’t have a field goal kicker of any repute, and the ball was too soggy to pass. Earlier attempts at passing had failed miserably. The fullback off-tackle play hadn’t gone anywhere. Decision time. What to do? Ahh, send speedy Schmidt around end?
I was playing fullback because June Jeffries, who normally played the position, was out sick. Something like that usually meant playing Helmer Schmidt at full, and leaving me at right end (wide-out) where I was comfortable.
However, matters -- as they quite often are -- were far from normal. Schmidt was acting weird that day and barely on this planet. Something was bothering him big time. Maybe ‘twas the flu. But more than likely, I thought, ‘twas something else.
Our assistant coach, Tensed Tripke, sensed it and convinced head coach Pavel Mankiewicz to move Schmidt to halfback, and play me at full. Ugh.
His reasoning? Well, Schmidt had wheels. That is, when he gets the ball he goes automatically into high gear, like a rocket. But when he is in la-la land, as he seemed to be that day, we couldn’t play him at full. Under our system, the fullback had to use his noodle on which way to go, cutting off the block of the lineman in front.
However, we Chokers needed him on the field because he was such a horse when he got the ball outside.
So there we were -- me at (ugh) full, Schmidt at half, Jeffries recuperating at home, and Leon Smith at end. Not a good situation in conference play. This was a league non-counter, but ‘twas important in the overall scheme for post-season playoff consideration.
We took time out to
consider options. The plan was set. Send Schmidt wide, around right end. He
could get us four yards and a first down.
I looked up as we trotted back to the middle of the pitch. Fog was rolling rapidly off the Wishkah. By the time we broke huddle and lined up to resume play, the fog had engulfed us in a near whiteout.
Getz nevertheless began barking signals. The ball was hiked. He faked the ball to me -- I was immediately swamped under -- while Getz handed off to Schmidt. Glimpsing from a gap in the muddy tangle of arms and legs, I was horrified . . . Instead of heading around end, Schmidt was heading for a shrinking gap between tackle and end. I then lost sight because of whirling scrum bodies. I heard a crunch, hollers and growls.
The whistle blew and referees began unstacking the pig pile. The fog was so thick we could almost taste it. Schmidt obviously had disappeared underneath.
The referees were frantic, peeling away the shimmering flesh to get at the ball. They could not find it or Schmidt. Both had vanished!
The referees were beside themselves. What the . . .?
The game stopped and after a few minutes of searching they counted players -- there were just 21 on the field of play. Schmidt indeed had vanished . . .with the ball!
Howls of laughter and derision. Guffaws. And angry protests followed. But Schmidt and the ball couldn’t be found.
After a few minutes the head referee shrugged and asked for a new ball. One was produced and it was awarded the Navalairs. They tried a pass. We intercepted it and ran it back for a touchdown. From that point on, we ran away with the contest -- especially in the fourth quarter.
Were we happy? Well yes, sort of . . . but where was Schmidt? Not to mention the ball. After the game Schmidt’s jersey was found in the mud at about the 20 yard line, but, of course, no Schmidt. As a matter of fact, we never saw him again.
Well, that’s not quite right. We never saw him on campus again.
Years later, while on pass from the army in a remote section of Frankfurt, Germany, I got the shock of my life. I saw Schmidt at a bar in a pub. I was in the back of the room. I mused that the man could be a double. After all, Schmidt was German. And somebody in Germany possibly could look like him.
This man and I just stared at one another. I told a couple of German friends, “Psst, see that tall man with curly hair at the bar looking at us? He looks exactly like a guy I played college football with. He just vanished one day. What would he be doing here?”
I didn’t explain the circumstances. My compadres probably wouldn’t have understood.
Finally, ‘twas time to leave. I got up with my
entourage and headed for the cashier. I decided to chance it, “Helmer . . .is
“Yes -- ha ha --‘tis me,” he said.
Wahoo! We beat one another on the back. Friends, who never were anywhere near that friendly at home, often do things like that when they see one another in a foreign place.
Finally, after several stutters and stops with my curiosity running amok, I was able to dismiss my German companions, and got Schmidt to sit at a table with me.
After some questioning and a couple of more beers for me, he told me this story: “Two days before the game I was in the college library, and for some reason I picked up a Bible. Suddenly this feeling came over me -- ‘What am I doing here? Why am I playing football? I need to get with the Lord.’ If I seemed a little cosmic on game night, it was because I had this feeling I just had to get out of the sure-to-be carnage.
“I don’t/didn’t have the courage to try to explain it to anyone. I had to show up. So I got there early and wrestled in torments of inner debate. When I heard the other team arriving, I boogied over to the visitors’ dressing room, actually before they got in the door, and stole one of their jerseys a team manager had put there.
“When I dressed down for the game I went to a corner where I hoped nobody would see me. I put on the Navalair jersey under my Choker one.
“I was hoping there’d be a moment when I could slip off my Choker jersey, and mix unnoticed with the Navalairs and then disappear. Well, opportunity never came in the first half. However, in the third quarter when the fog rolled in, I saw my chance.
“When Tripke called my number on that fourth down play, I decided to do it. So when I got the piggy, I dove into the pile in the fog, struggled out of my Choker jersey and wearing the Navalair one I melted toward the fence line and the Navalair players’ bench. Only after I got some distance away -- the refs were still looking for me and the ball -- I was shocked to find out I still had the football.
“So I tossed it over the fence and drifted way over behind the Navalair bench. There was such a commotion out on the field, nobody paid the slightest attention to me. I shed the Navalair jersey at their equipment box. That left me just in my tee shirt, pads, football pants and shoes, but I was able to get to my car in the parking lot. There I changed into warm, dry, clean clothes, and drove 110 miles to SeaTac Airport in Seattle.
“I ditched my car, used my birthday money to buy an air ticket, and caught an early over-the-polar-cap flight here to Frankfurt. I’ve been in Europe ever since.”
My jaw dropped.
After he told the story I was quiet for an eon or two. Then I asked, “Well, what did that have to do with all of that stuff about the Bible and seeing the Lord? I mean . . .er . . .well, I just don’t understand . . . are you doing some sort of Christian work over here?”
“Oh yes,” he said. “I am with Christ In Our Time headquartered in Amsterdam. We have a rally here tonight in Frankfurt. That’s why I am here.“
“Uh. Are you glad you did what you did? I mean, has life here lived up to expectations?”
“Ja. But I have to admit that what I did in Aberdeen was wrong. I should have just told someone and not showed for the game. I should’ve just left by plane out of Moon Island. About two years ago I wrote to my aunt and uncle in Raymond, telling what happened.”
“The Lord has forgiven me for what I did. I am sure. Now I am going hard for God, and trying to take a few with me . . .how are you doin’?”
(© 2012 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)