The defensive scheme shift and overabundance of stories about it prompted me to take a brief, but extremely enjoyable trip down memory lane recently, back to my first practice of tackle football. I vividly remember three things about that day: 1) walking by one of the parked school buses and seeing the driver, Otto before there was an Otto, rocking out, air guitar and all, to Poison’s Don’t Need Nothing But a Good Time 2) the smell of the locker room: a combination of stale sweat, dirt and grass, and Old Spice deodorant and 3) Coach DeWayne Butts. Coach DeWayne Butts (he pronounced it DEEE-wanye) was about 70 years old in everyone’s best estimation, but no one really knew for sure because no one talked to him or even saw him anywhere but the football field. All we knew was that he was our defensive coach, he yelled a lot, and smelled funny (In college, I came to realize that he had smelled like E&J Brandy after I asked a girl I met at a party why she smelled like Coach Butts) That didn’t go well.
That first day, I’ll admit, I was truly green. I knew very little about the X’s and O’s of team football, I watched the Packers on Sundays, but my Grandma Beatrice, whom I was living with, hated all announcers (still does) and made me watch on mute. The only thing I knew was playground football. Through the course of the drills, I somehow got identified as a linebacker, 3rd string. That was fine with me since I didn’t know what I was doing anyway. While the 1st team offense and 2nd team defense were scrimmaging, one of the linebackers got hurt, and I see Coach Butts storm towards me. He grabs my facemask and literally throws me into the huddle while the play is being called. I line up roughly where I thought I should be, the ball is snapped, and I get bowled over by the fullback, Nick Kromlich, the biggest, strongest kid in my grade. Laying on the ground with the wind knocked out me, I hear Coach Butts screaming, “Get up, Hillside! Do it again!” Same play, same result. I didn’t even know where he came from this time. Coach Butts screaming is now getting progressively louder…and angrier. Next play, I avoid the fullback, but get knocked on my ass by the tight end. It’s now becoming a game for the offense, see who can knock Hillside down. Before I can get my feet under me, I’m being lifted off the ground by my facemask.
For the next 3 minutes, I am treated to Coach Butts' face two inches from mine, assailing me with insults, verbally abusing my ancestors, and spraying my giant coke bottle glasses with Copenhagen spittle. I honestly can feel the tears coming, but I hold them back and then he lowers his voice and whispers something in my ear that I’ll never forget: “You smack someone in the mouth, Hillside, he’ll think twice about coming back.” I look up at him and he smiles a crooked, slightly maniacal smile, breathing E&J on me, and screaming, “Do it again!”
I watch him as he trots of the field, and think, ‘That, man, is crazier than a Viking fan believing their own hype, but I’ll be damned if he’s going to yell at me again.” The ball is snapped, and I don’t even wait to see where it’s going, I find Kromlich and make a straight line for him. The next thing I know, his helmet is laying 4 yards away, and he is curled up in the fetal position. I stand up, slightly woozy, and walk toward the huddle, only to have my facemask grabbed by Coach Butts again….Are you kidding me, what’d I do this time?
He screamed, “HILL-side! That’s how you play DEE-fense, kid! It ain’t f#$%ing rocket science! Smack ‘em in the mouth! HI-YO!”
After that, I spent the whole season at linebacker. I rarely knew exactly where I was supposed to be, but I can you tell you that I took his words to heart, and I didn’t do half bad.
Am I naïve enough to think that this is the case in the NFL? Nah, not at all. But sometimes, in the midst of all the hoopla about scheme, position change, and whatnot; we forget that it’s still a game, and sometimes the only way to play D is to line up and smack someone in the mouth, something that was distinctly lacking last year.
I have heard that saying alot since that day, but it never seems to carry the same weight without a semi-crazy, possibly tipsy, 70 year old man screaming it at you. Thanks, Coach Butts.