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BALL FIVE: NFL player’s actions evoke early football memories

I was watching the Tigers practice for the upcoming football season on Tuesday when the guys on sports talk radio brought up Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown and his helmet grievance with the NFL.
Pro football players go through having to adjust to a new helmet all the time. It used to happen when old helmets were deemed unsafe compared to newer, more scientifically updated helmets. More often these days it is just because the helmet is suffering from old age. That’s the problem with Brown’s helmet. You would think a guy would just move on, find new headgear and get on the field with his (new) teammates, but things don’t work that way in Antonio Brown’s world.
Wide receivers have always been the divas of the team sports world. Brown is a candidate for class president. If you remember the straw that broke the camel’s back in Pittsburgh last year came when Brown wasn’t named team MVP and was a no-show for their week 17 game. Brown had been a locker room problem for a long time before that. So much so that most of the players, coaches and management are glad the Steelers are done dealing with the only player in NFL history to amass six straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the helmet issue. Brown so wanted to wear his 10-year-old helmet that he threatened to quit playing if he didn’t get his way. That, by the way, didn’t happen. When an arbitrator ruled against Brown, saying he could not use his old helmet, the wide out started going to practice.
Don’t forget that Brown missed the rest of camp because he was dealing with foot issues that stemmed from his not having his feet properly protected when he was using a cryotherapy chamber.
This is just the very beginning of Brown and the Raiders. Someone isn’t sleeping well in Oakland, knowing they just gave Brown a four-year extension worth $68 million and a $19 million guarantee at signing.
Think about that. The Raiders give him the kind of money 68 South Dakotans could retire on and he doesn’t care enough about his employers or his teammates to put on a different helmet and go to work at his new job.
After that thought process went through my mind, it was even more enjoyable to watch the Tigers practice. There are kids out there from 13 to 18 who are appreciating the helmets that are on their heads. I remember what it was like to get on the practice field every August. I was that weirdo who thought practices, even two-a-days, were fun. Sometimes practice was even more fun that the games. Of course, I got to play a lot more football on Tuesday than I did on Friday, but I was the same way with baseball. I don’t know why, but the art of trying to perfect athletic skills has always made me feel good.
Then my mind went all the way back to my first football season. I had just turned 13 in 1971. Playing pickup football before that first official season of organized football, I was never the kid with a helmet of his own. I did not have a purple Vikings helmet with the short horns. I did not have the white Eagles helmet with green wings across each side of the front. Heck, I didn’t have shoulder pads or cleated shoes, either. Before seventh-grade football all I had was canvas tennis shoes, blue jeans and a hard head.
Someone like me never forgets that first helmet. Man, I went home, put on the helmet and pads and lined up for a picture with my siblings. It was a proud day.
Notice, I didn’t say jersey. There were more kids than uniform tops when I became a football player for the first time. I’ll never forget our first game that year. A bunch of us seventh-graders were lined up on the sideline with T-shirts from home masquerading as jerseys. Mine was white and brown in horizontal stripes.
Lo and behold, the Mobridge football Rebels (that was the junior high mascot name in those days) routed Lemmon. Sometime in the fourth quarter, I got my chance. My five-foot-three, 75-pound frame (I might be exaggerating) felt a lot bigger than that all of the sudden. Sure enough, a Lemmon running back broke away from the pack and was headed for me and then the end zone. He did not make the end zone. I made a touchdown-saving tackle.
You know what my reward was? Yes, it was a jersey. The next week the new shipment of jerseys came in. We were on the bus on our way to a game in Eagle Butte. When the jerseys came out, few of us expected a new jersey. Coach Tim Schliebe [sic] started by giving them to eighth-graders, who then gave the old jersey to a deserving seventh-grader. But then out came number 25. A seventh-grader already had that number and to my surprise, Coach tossed it my way. When I caught it, he reminded me why he gave to me. “Nice tackle,” coach said.
Antonio Brown, maybe you have forgotten these kinds of memories