Ralph Barbour.

Right Tackle Todd





You know, said Clem one evening, you dont really have to know the rules by heart, Jim. Youre not going to referee; youre just going to play the game.

I sort of like to know what its all about, though, said Jim. And maybe, he added, with a twinkle, if the referee made a mistake Id want to be able to tell him.

Yes, Id try it, scoffed Clem, who hadnt seen the twinkle. Youd make a big hit all around!

He was duck walking and pushing the charging machine these days, for he was listed as a lineman. And he was having his six goes regularly at the tackling dummy, besides. His education was branching out. Perhaps because he had been through the work last year he made steady progress, although he was lacking in the experience of those of his companions who had played football since they were twelve years old. At tackling he was good, and he got praise more than once; and he was learning to handle a ball in a safe, clean fashion, no longer treating it as if it were an egg that might break if he was rude to it. At the end of the first fortnight he was as good a football man as some twenty others on the field and better than perhaps ten more. As that particular ten ceased their connection with football shortly after the Banning High game, Jim was left for a space superior to none.

So far, save for a word in passing, he had held no communication with Coach Cade, and if that gentleman felt any satisfaction over Jims presence among the players he disguised it perfectly. Not that Jim had expected any expression of gratitude, of course, but it was difficult to reconcile Clems statement on that first night of the term with the coachs apparent complete indifference. Clem had declared that Mr. Cade was anxious to have Jim report. And since he had reported, Mr. Cade had never even noticed him. Jim reached the not unnatural conclusion that Clem had slightly exaggerated the coachs concern.

Lowell Woodruff, though, fully atoned for any inattention on the coachs part. Lowell assured Jim more than once that he fully appreciated the latters presence among the candidates, and he was almost embarrassingly solicitous as to his welfare. In fact, his efforts to keep Jim contented with his lot were so painstaking that Jim got it into his head that the manager was making fun of him, and he took a mild dislike to the well-meaning Lowell. As he made no mention of the matter to Clem, the misunderstanding existed well into the season.

Alton played the local high school team, winning by 21 to 7 in a long and uninteresting contest, and defeated Banning High School a week later by 17 to 0. Jim watched both contests from the bench and added considerably to his knowledge of the science in which he was a beginner. But neither game produced any thrilling moments, and Jim continued unmoved in his opinion that football was rather an uninteresting pursuit and certainly not deserving of all the time and attention given it.

Then, after a week of practice that made the preceding fortnight seem in retrospect a period of languid idleness, Lorimer Academy visited Alton, and Jims conviction was slightly shaken.

CHAPTER VII
OFF-SIDE

Lorimer always gave a scrappy argument. In fact, she had on one occasion argued so well that a tie score had resulted. This year she looked better than usual when she went onto the field for practice, and there were those on the stands who, perhaps naturally pessimistic, shook their heads and predicted a defeat for the Gray-and-Gold. They had reason on their side, too, for Lorimer was known to have a practically veteran team while Altons team was still in the throes of constructing itself around no more than four proven warriors. And the visitors had superior weight in both line and backfield, although the superiority was not vast. So the pessimists had plenty of arguments with which to support their dismal prophecies.

Coach Cade put his best foot forward when the game started, using the best material he had in the hope of getting a safe lead in the first half. After that he could use his substitutes with discrimination and, he believed, hold the enemy at bay. But the safe lead didnt materialize according to his program. Gains through the Lorimer line were few and difficult to make, and before the game was ten minutes old it was apparent that, with the few plays Alton had at present, she was going to be hard put to score unless the breaks came her way. In the first period the only break came when Lorimer blocked Steve Whittiers try at a field goal on her thirty-three yards and a Lorimer tackle scooped up the trickling ball and sped to Altons twenty-seven yards before he was brought down from behind by Billy Frost. It looked very much like a Lorimer score just then, and when the enemy had tossed a forward pass across the center of the line for six yards more it looked vastly more like it. It took Lorimer the next three downs to get the rest of her distance and fetch up just inside the seventeen. Doubtless the pessimists were gloomily happy then. But Lorimer didnt have the punch to score, for, after one smash at left tackle had been stopped, an end run had lost half a yard and a forward pass had grounded near the side-line, her try for a goal from near the twenty-five-yard line failed.

Alton had some success with a full-back run from kick-formation, Crumb carrying the ball, and got off one forward-pass of twenty yards, Crumb to Kinsey, and worked the pigskin back to mid-field and then into Lorimer territory. But the invasion petered out in a punt that the Lorimer quarter-back took on his five-yard-line and laid down finally on his thirty-one. The Lorimer rooters thought well of that incident and let the fact be known. Alton displayed scarcely any signs of delight. That ended the first ten-minute quarter.

As if to play even, Fortune favored the home team soon after the second period began by giving her a chance to score when Billy Frost poked his way outside tackle and got free for a thirty-eight-yard scamper that put the ball down on the adversarys twenty-six. Crumb hit the right of center for two and got three more outside tackle. Billy Frost tried the left end, was thrown for no gain, and Steve Whittier dropped back to the thirty while Quarter-back Kinsey knelt on the turf in front of him and held his hands out for the ball. Alton was all ready to burst into triumphant cheers, for Steve was a good place-kicker, and the ball was directly in front of the goal. But Alton was reckoning without Mr. Loring Cheswick, center. Loring set himself firmly and carefully, measured distance and noted direction and then sped the ball a foot above Peps reach!

So that ended that incident, except that Steve did all that was humanly possible by chasing the bounding pigskin back to the forty-yard line, gathering it up expeditiously and doubling back toward the Lorimer goal. But the best he could do was to reach the thirty-four, close to the side-line, where he was pulled to earth by no fewer than three of the enemy. Alton seemed discouraged and Peps choice of plays was not of the best. A plunge on the short side of the field netted but a scant yard and didnt take the runner over the side-line. Peps own run to the left almost centered the ball but lost the first gain and two yards more. A fake kick from placement, which fooled nobody, gave Crumb four yards through center, and after a conference that was rudely interrupted by the referee, Whittier punted to Lorimers three yards.

Lorimer kicked promptly and got distance, and Pep was downed where he caught. On the first play Levering, at left end, was caught off-side, and Alton was set back to the forty-seven yards. Two downs failed to gain, and Alton punted again. This time Pep got height but not much more and the ball was Lorimers on her thirty-one when the catcher was stopped. It was there and then that the visitor began a march up the field that would not be denied. Three first downs brought her to Altons thirty-seven. Coach Cade sent in fresh linemen to the number of three and for a moment the advance faltered. Then a forward-pass gathered in eight yards and a plunge at center brought another first down. Progress was slower but still apparently sure, and Lorimer reached the sixteen in four plays. There, however, with the time-keeper hovering fatefully near, Alton dug her cleats and spoiled two attempts at her line. From the fourteen yards Lorimer brought off a tricky forward-pass that was shot across the goal-line from behind a wall of moving interference. That pass failed badly, though, for the receiver was not in position, and after the ball had been juggled by two Alton backs it grounded. Had Lorimer fulfilled the expectations of the audience she might have ended the first half with a three-point lead, for it was only reasonable to suppose that a try-at-goal from the twenty-four yards would succeed. But Lorimer, perhaps reasoning that her opponent was certain to score before the game was over, in which case three points would not be sufficient for a victory, decided on all or nothing. With eight yards needed for a first down she set the stage for a drop-kick and then shot her quarter-back on a wide run behind good interference. For a moment it looked as if she was going to get what she was after, for when the quarter turned in he went romping straight for the goal-line, threw off two tacklers and seemed safe for a touch-down. But Hick Powers saved the day for the Gray-and-Gold, plunging into the runner and lifting him back into a fighting m?l?e. The referee whistled and dug his heel into the five-yard line, and then, after a look at the rods, waved his hand up the field. Alton shouted relief and triumph. After Whittier had punted from behind his line the half ended.

Jim went back to the gymnasium with the rest of the squad, feeling for almost the first time that perhaps football did, after all, hold compensations for all the drudgery and hard knocks entailed; that is, if you were on the field instead of the bench! He began to wonder what his chances were of ever taking a hand in a real contest, and what he could do to better them.

Mr. Cades talk before the players took the field again was brief and energetic. Jim, listening attentively from the outer edge of the circle, had lost his unsympathetic attitude. There was sense in what Johnny was telling them, and reason. After all, it did seem necessary to lick Lorimer, and, if you granted that, then there was excuse enough for all this intensity of purpose. Jim added his own voice to the cheer that followed the coachs final grim, Lets go get em!

There were changes in the line-up of each team when the ball was kicked off again, but Alton presented more new faces than did her opponent. There were new men in the line and two new men behind it. One of these was Latham at quarter-back. Latham proved good medicine while he stayed in, for Alton worked faster and with more vim than in the first half. Yet for seven minutes of the ten neither team threatened. Then a fumbled punt was recovered by Levering on Lorimers thirty-three yards and suddenly the Gray-and-Gold visioned success and went after it hard. Crumb, who had borne a great deal of the work in the first two periods and had been taken out to rest, was hurried back and celebrated his return with a fine off-tackle charge that took the ball to the twenty-six. Latham gained a yard straight through center and Crumb made it first down on the enemys twenty-two.

An end run put away a scant two, and Frost was stopped trying to get inside right tackle. Steve Whittier went back to the thirty-three yards as though to try a goal, but the ball went to Crumb and the full-back got another two through right guard. With six to go on fourth down a field-goal seemed the only hope, for Altons passing game was still undeveloped, and when Steve again went back the eyes of the Lorimer sympathizers sought the cross-bar. But Steve didnt kick the ball when he got it. He lifted it in his right hand and stepped back and out to the left. Then he shot it diagonally across toward the right-hand corner of the field, where Levering was speeding toward the goal-line. The right end looked over his shoulder, stopped abruptly, letting a Lorimer back go past, and pulled the pass out of the air on the seven yards. He made the four before he was forced over the side-line. When the ball had been brought in and a winded Lorimer man had been administered to, Crumb tried the right of center and made a scant yard. Pandemonium reigned in the stands. Latham tried to knife himself through center and added part of a second yard. Crumb again went straight at center. It seemed that Alton was determined to make that score there or not at all. The linesmans little iron stick moved forward another two feet. Fourth down and still about two to go. This time Crumb went back a little farther from his line, and when, once more, he took the pass from center he was going hard when he reached the swaying lines. Playing desperately but playing low, Lorimer might have withstood this final attack by the heavy full-back had he stayed on his feet, but he didnt. He went up and over, and although he was soon borne back again, he had reached the last white line first, and that long-deferred score had been won at last!

When the last quarter started, a minute and a half after Captain Fingal had missed the try-for-point by inches only, Coach Cade put back most of his first-string players, and for the succeeding ten minutes of playing time the Gray-and-Gold punted on first down as often as the ball became hers inside her forty-yard line. She was frankly on the defensive now and sought delay by all fair means. Twice, early in the period, Lorimer started an advance by forward-passes that got no farther than the thirty-five. The second one ended when Levering intercepted a long heave and ran it back into enemy territory. On the whole, that final quarter was all Altons, for the ball reached her territory only three times and never stayed long. Lorimers passing game failing her, she had little left to offer, for while her backs could still gain through the opposing line the gains were too short to score with.

When the quarter was almost over, Coach Cade ripped his team apart and put it together again with many new components. It was risky, but the results upheld him. Jim Todd, never for an instant expecting the call to duty, failed to hear it until a neighbor ejected him from the bench with a rude hand at the back of his neck. Jim, blinking, found Coach Cade beckoning. Go in at left tackle, he commanded. Roice is out. Report to the referee and dont speak to another person until the first play is over. Lets see what you can do, Todd. If any one gets through you youll hear from me!

Jim tried to remember all those instructions as he hurried on and concluded that he had probably missed some of them. Probably he hadnt, though, for he fulfilled them all. No one threatened his position seriously during the remaining three minutes of actual play. Or, if any one did, Jim didnt realize it. Once he got quite a thrill when a scowling, dirt-smeared face crashed into his shoulder, and he seized a writhing body and deposited it back where it had come from, and once he got a terrific jar when, seeking to tackle a speeding Lorimer half, he missed badly and landed, to the best of his knowledge, on the back of his neck and did a wild and doubtless inelegant somersault. He felt both hurt and foolish and wondered for an instant if any one had observed his humiliation. There was, he concluded, quite a difference between tackling the dummy and tackling an enemy runner. He made up his mind that the next time he would do better. But, although he ran around a good deal during the rest of the game, and got slightly winded when some unknown person butted him in the stomach with a knee, he had no opportunity to redeem himself as a tackler. To his surprise, he discovered that he was considerably excited, so excited, in fact, that after one play a horn squawked and a voice that Jim didnt like at all called: Alton left tackle off-side!

Me? demanded Jim in tones of outrage. Who says so?

He looked about for some one to discuss it with, but Pep Kinsey, back at quarter, told him to shut up and watch what he was doing, and then Lorimers signals came again and he had to accept the verdict. Fortunately that five-yard set-back, occurring as it did well inside Lorimer territory, made no real difference, and after a Lorimer back had made a desperate effort to skirt the Alton left end and had been piled on his head for a scant one-yard gain the game ended.

Going back to the gymnasium, with the lessening cheers of the Alton supporters in his ears, Jim tried to convince Charley Levering that some one had done him a great injustice. But Charley only grinned and said rudely: Youre cuckoo, Todd. You were off-side a yard when the ball moved.

I was? asked Jim, crestfallen, still incredulous.

Of course you were. I saw you myself, didnt I? Youve got to be mighty clever to beat the ball and get away with it nowadays, Todd. If I were you Id cut it out.

But I didnt mean to! I didnt know

Thats what we all say, jeered Levering. But all it gets us is five yards backward!

Jim was forced to the conclusion that the individual with the unpleasant voice was probably right, after all. Jim recalled the fact that at the moment he had been slightly excited. Maybe he had started too soon. He wondered if Coach Cade would hold it against him. He must take care not to do it again, anyhow!

There was a meeting of the Maine-and-Vermont Club that evening and Jim didnt see Clem to talk to until bedtime. Then, to Clems utter surprise, Jim began a narrative, a most detailed and exhaustive story of the last three minutes of the afternoons contest. Jim recounted what he had done, what he had failed to do, what he had thought and how he had felt during every one of the, approximately, six hundred seconds that he had been on the field. Clem let him run down. Then he said: Well, Jim, Ill say you did mighty well.

Jim looked thoughtful while a slow smile encompassed his features. Well, I dont know, he answered modestly. Do you really?

I certainly do, affirmed Clem emphatically. Of course, Lorimer was probably pretty well tuckered out by that time, but, just the same, for you to keep them from scoring was quite a stunt.

Well, began Jim doubtfully.

If youd had any help it would be different, Jim, but for you, alone and unaided, to do a thing like you tell about was great!

Alone? faltered Jim, puzzled. I didnt say I was alone. Of course I wasnt alone, Clem!

You werent? Clem registered surprise. Oh, my mistake, old son. You see, you didnt mention any one else and so I naturally concluded that

Oh, gosh, muttered Jim feebly.

So you had help, eh?

For a rotten apple Id punch your face, replied Jim, grinning. Honest, I didnt know I was bragging, Clem!

I dont think you were, Jim. I was just having my little joke. Anyway, for a chap who couldnt see football at all a couple of weeks ago you seem to be at least faintly interested in it!

I guess, said Jim thoughtfully, Im going to like it!

CHAPTER VIII
JIM BUYS A FOOTBALL

As a room-mate Jim was, Clem soon decided, a very satisfactory chap. They got on together excellently. Jim was not monotonous as a companion, for while he might fairly be termed even tempered you couldnt call him good-natured in the popular meaning of the term. If you expected to put anything over on Jim, relying on his good nature to get away with it, you were in for a surprise. Clem realized that without a demonstration. Jim would take a joke perfectly, but he had a sense of dignity that prohibited liberties. That he was capable of temper Clem didnt doubt, although he held it well under control.

When Jim had declared in his letter to Clem that he was neat about the place he had, Clem soon decided, stated less than the facts. Clem himself was certainly not untidy, but his idea of neatness and Jims were wide apart. Jim looked after his part of Number 15 so carefully and minutely that Clems half of the room suffered badly by comparison. Clem said once: You arent neat, Jim, youre finnicky! For a fortnight Clem really suffered from such excess of tidiness, for quite unconsciously Jims attentions were extended to his room-mates territory and the book tossed on the table in the morning had mysteriously disappeared by afternoon, to be discovered, after patient search, neatly hidden under a pile of others. If he left his cap on his bed, half an hour later it was gone. At first he used to look on the floor for it and under the bed. Later he learned to go directly to his closet and take it down from a hook. The second time this experience fell to him he said: Hang it all, Jim, whats the idea? Here it is in the closet. You must have put it there. I know I didnt!





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