In April of 1966, I was drafted into the U.S. Army (Vietnam Era) and served as a computer analyst at Third Army Headquarters at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia, with the Third U. S. Army Data Processing Company.
Every company on the post had a football team. Plus there was a company of U.S. Marines stationed at a nearby supply depot that filled out our 6-team league.
We played touch football.
In the military, that meant it was illegal to break bones during a touch.
The Marines and the data processors met in October of 1967. During warm-ups, the Marines appeared confident. After all, they were big, tough dudes with necks as big as their thighs and we were computer geeks.
We had enough players to field a team, as long as we played both ways, with a couple players left over for emergency.
I often played fullback and middle linebacker. This night I was the center and a defensive lineman.
As usual, John Danko, a notorious street fighter from north Minneapolis gave us an emotional boost. Just before he kicked off to open the game, he pointed at some of the nastiest-looking Marines and announced he was going to stomp them into the ground.
When Danko kicked the ball to start the game, eleven computer geeks, including me, stormed down the field like we were all blood kin to Dick Butkus.
Thus began an evening of pure mayhem.
In the first half, Staff Sergeant Jackson blew out a knee in a pileup and was carted off to the hospital. He was replaced at defensive tackle by a guy from Philadelphia named Phillips, a decent athlete with good size.
In the third quarter, the biggest Marine on the offensive line nailed Phillips in the mouth with a forearm. Phillips lost several front teeth and was bleeding badly from a split lip, so he left the game and went off to be repaired.
John Wright, linebacker, took my place at defensive end while I slipped into the tackle position previously occupied by Jackson and Phillips. Wright was an excellent athlete, tall with speed.
When we lined up again, I told the molester of computer geeks, in rather colorful language, that he was about to encounter the next level of bad. Rather than intimidating him, it made him smile.
In the last quarter, the score was still zero-zero.
We had the marines backed up deep in their own territory when they ran up the middle. Somehow, my elbow smacked into the biggest offensive lineman’s mouth. It drew blood but his teeth remained intact. Although it was accidental, it turned out to be a turning point in the game.
A couple of other Marines accosted me but Banning and Valentino, the left side of our defensive line, joined in and soon whistles were blowing and flags flying.
Everyone on the field was now in full macho mode. Danko gave me a nod, acknowledging me for molesting the molester, sending my reputation up about four notches.
In high school, Banning had been an all-state basketball player and the Missouri State discus champion. He was basically a human gorilla.
Valentino was a tough guy from Chicago who lifted weights every spare minute of his life. But he was so strong he had no lateral movement. He could only go straight ahead, always at full throttle.
The next play, the Marine quarterback dropped back to pass.
Banning and I broke through the line, chasing the quarterback to his right. Valentino, at full speed, “tagged” the quarterback in his own end zone.
In fact, he “tagged” him so hard the quarterback rolled about three revolutions before coming to a halt with a mouth full of Georgia clay.
The final score – Computer Geeks 2, Marines 0.
Sometimes you can’t tell a book by the cover.
And sometimes geeks are more than just geeks.
John Luzon, quarterback, had a great arm. He was signed as a pitcher in the Baltimore Oriole organization.
Jack Quitoni, halfback, played semi-pro football and now coaches high school football in New York State.
Clyde Pruitt, wide receiver, was a super athlete who had played basketball on scholarship for UCLA.
Bill Banning, lineman, became a hotshot software developer for IBM, creating the OS/2 database manager.
John Valentino, lineman, moved on to Hollywood where he represents many famous actors as an agent.
John Wright, linebacker, returned to his old job in Burbank and was nominated for an Oscar for editing the movies THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) and SPEED (1994).
And of course, I went on to become a hermit in the Ozark Mountains where I write stuff and talk to trees.
We were all draftees, serving two years in an office building on a small post in Atlanta, Georgia, doing our best to maintain our sanity. In those days, most draftees went across the Big Pond to the jungles of South Vietnam to dodge bullets.
A man named Jeffrey Mellinger was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1972. In July of 2011, after serving nearly 40 years, Command Sgt. Major Mellinger is preparing to retire from service. He is the last of the Vietnam Era draftees to retire.
Destiny is a curious thing.
Quote for the Day -- "If a man watches three football games in a row, he should be declared legally dead." Erma Bombeck
Bret Burquest, author of four novels, has recently published THE REALITY OF THE ILLUSION OF REALITY (esoteric knowledge) and 1111 HAPPY TRAILS ROAD (humor) -- available on Amazon. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and the ghost of Bronko Nagurski.