Tonight’s story is a takeoff on the 1990 Jim Belushi movie, Mr. Destiny. Belushi plays a character who at the age of 35, is able to enter into time travel allowing him to return to the time of his final high school at bat, where, instead getting a hit to win the championship game, instead he strikes out, thus somehow dictating the outcome of the rest of his life.
The center of this Mr. Destiny story is none other than the author. In 1970-71, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. Having grown up mostly as a baseball player, at the age of 14, I was encouraged by my best friend Martin Rechnitzer to go out for football. I showed up for hell-week that summer, and despite the hard work and learning curve, came to love the game.
After playing for 3 years with some success, I entered my senior year on what was to be a formidable team, led by future hall-of-fame baseball catcher Gary Carter at quarterback. Below are the scores from the first six games of our season:
Sunny Hills 30 El Dorado 0
Sunny Hills 19 Sonora 6
Sunny Hills 54 Lowell 7
Sunny Hills 33 Fullerton 7
Sunny Hills 30 Troy 8
Sunny Hills 47 Buena Park 6
So, as you can see, the Sunny Hills Lancers were dominant. In game 7 we were to meet the also unbeaten Kennedy High Fighting Irish, and from what we had heard, they were tough.
So, as some of you know, after playing many positions during my first 3 years, from fullback to linebacker, I had become a defensive cornerback. A cornerback is usually isolated on a split end or wingback, usually the fastest and most talented wide receiver. I spent most of my time on the field back-pedaling. I would line up about 7 yards off the line of scrimmage, and when the wide receiver headed down field, I was backpedaling to stay with him until he made his cut, then I would do the cross-over to run in stride with the receiver. Fortunately, most of the time this worked, and I don’t think I had had a pass-receiving touchdown scored against me all year. But then came the 4th quarter of the game against Kennedy.
As destiny goes, we were tied 7-7. Kennedy had the ball and was driving. They had the ball on our 40 yard line, and it was 3rd down and 2 years to go. Our defensive coach called for a goal-line defense, which of course is usually only called on the goal line. This was not the goal line…it was the 40 yard line. On a goal line defense, it means that a cornerback (me) lines up closer to the receiver, maybe 2 or 3 yards off the line. It also means the safety, the last line of defense, comes in closer. We are trying to stop Kennedy from getting those 2 yards and a first down.
And so, destiny kicked in. The quarterback swept my way, and the wide receiver was able to get to my lower body (which never happens when you are playing 7 years off the line). I went down and put my arm out to break my fall. Unfortunately, 2 players hit me at the same time, so not only did I break my fall, but they broke my elbow. Once past me, the safety had no chance to get an angle and the quarterback went 40 years for a touchdown; End of game; Kennedy 13, Sunny Hills 7. End of season. End of football career. So, I have always wondered….what if our coach had not called for a goal-line defense? And what if I had made that tackle? And what if we had won that game? Sheesh.