Read an article in the newspaper the other day about Baltimore’s City College High School, one of America’s oldest high schools, getting a new artificial turf football field. Predictably, the article referenced several current and former players recalling the trials and tribulations of playing on the old field, more accurately, the old dirt patch—a hundred yards of “rocks and dirt” where “grass never seemed to take hold,” where the line markers “just blew away with the dust,” and you were never “sure you were in the end zone” until you ran past the goal posts.

The article got me thinking about my last game there fifty years ago. George Young was City’s head coach then, and his teams were always tough. Young would go on to become General Manager of the New York Giants and subsequently take a high level position with the NFL itself, but on that cloudy November afternoon, he stood on the “rocks and dirt” and watched his team and mine (Calvert Hall) battle to a 6-6 tie. When the game ended, the Calvert Hall team piled into the school’s bus for the ride back to our Towson campus where the players would get cleaned up and head home. But since I was already halfway home, my coach said I could head directly back from City. I just needed to find a spot where I could peel off my helmet, shoulder pads, and cleats, stuff them into my big red equipment bag and start walking down from “The Castle On The Hill” (as City was known, for its Gothic stone architecture and elevated setting) to the bus stop for the #3 line that would take me further south into Baltimore where I’d transfer to the #23 line for the ride out to my west end neighborhood.

Two things about this: first, what happened on the way down from “The Castle,” and second, what only just now occurred to me.

It took me a few minutes after the game to get out of my football gear and into some street clothes, using the stadium’s public toilets for the transformation. By that time, my teammates were long gone and things were pretty quiet. As I exited the bathroom, there was Coach Young standing alone at the fence between the stands and the field, his back to me. I guess the bathroom door slammed behind me as I came out, so the burly coach suddenly turned around to see me with my big red equipment bag.

“Good game, son,” he said. “You’re the fullback, right?”

I couldn’t believe he knew that; still haven’t a clue how.

“That’s my old school, you know,” he continued.

I did know that George Young had attended Calvert Hall, and had in fact coached there before going to City. I’d heard my dad, another Calvert Hall alum though a bit older than George, talk about him often. George Young was clearly highly regarded around town.

“Anyway,” he said, “good game. We’ll see you next year,” and he proceeded back to his team’s locker room while I, having contributed little to the conversation other than a couple “uh-huhs,” headed down to the bus stop.

So that’s what happened. As to what only just now occurred to me…two things: one, while it’s likely that George Young was standing out at that fence because perhaps he needed to have a quiet smoke after his post-game comments to his team, I can’t help wondering, especially in light of being reminded of the nature of City’s football field, if he was perhaps having a quiet moment with a Higher Authority along the lines of “Thank you for your blessings and PLEASE let some grass grow.” And the second thing that just occurred to me: Damn, but I must have been one awful looking sight (not to mention a smelly one) on the bus rides home…covered in dirt and sweat, thoroughly disheveled, and carting a bulky red canvas bag that took up as much space as I did.

And so to return to the newspaper article and the young City player who was quoted as saying, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience because you only get one first game on this (artificial turf),” I say: True enough, and I hope your memories of that first game on City’s new magic carpet will one day be recalled as fondly as my last game on its rocks and dirt.

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