Right Tackle Todd
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“Really?” asked Jim, surprised. “I don’t remember touching it. I’m awfully sorry.”
“Oh, it’s all right,” answered Clem, “but do you know what I think? I think you must have been born in a filing cabinet!”
Jim looked slightly blank, and Clem went out without elucidating.
After some two weeks of life in Number 15 with Jim, Clem caught the habit. He never attained to such perfection of orderliness as the other’s, and doubtless to the end of their days together Jim secretly considered Clem just a trifle careless about the room, but, just as evidence of how thoroughly he had fallen under Jim’s spell, he once, having reached the door on his way to chapel, returned the length of the room to place his slippers more perfectly in alignment under the head of the bed. It is doubtful, however, if Jim would have given him any credit for that. Jim would have kept his slippers, had he owned a pair, in his closet!
At the beginning of the term the two were not together a great deal outside of sleeping and study hours. Jim foregathered frequently with certain members of the Maine-and-Vermont Club and Clem’s acquaintances were not yet Jim’s. They might have been, for Clem suggested more than once that his room-mate accompany him on his social excursions. But Jim invariably had an excuse. The latter did meet two or three of Clem’s circle of intimates, but the meetings were only casual. The school year was a fortnight old when Jim first blossomed out in society.
The occasion was a birthday party given by Arthur Landorf to Arthur Landorf and some of Arthur Landorf’s friends. Much assistance, however, was provided by Art’s parents, for they had sent a box holding practically all the requirements of a birthday celebration, including a frosted cake with seventeen pink candles. The affair was held in Number 20 Lykes, which room Art shared with Larry Adams. Art was a hockey and baseball man and Larry a member of the second eleven. When Art invited Clem he added: “And bring your room-mate, whatever his name is, if he cares to come.” So Clem delivered the invitation to Jim and Jim started to find an excuse, as usual. But Clem was fed up by now.
“Stop it!” he said sternly. “I don’t give a continental if you’ve got a dinner engagement with Doctor Maitland himself and are down to address the faculty afterwards! You’re going with me to Art’s blow-out and you might just as well make up your mind to it. Say, what’s the colossal idea, anyhow? Aren’t my associates good enough for you?”
“Oh, I don’t like to butt in on that crowd,” said Jim. “I ain’t their sort, Clem. I – I haven’t got any parlor tricks.”
“Parlor tricks! Who’s asking you to do tricks? You can sit on a chair or a bed or something without falling off, can’t you? And you can say ‘Thank you’ when some one shoves a hunk of cake at you, I suppose. Well, that’s all you have to do, you big lummox.”
“We-ell, if you think I won’t be in the way,” said Jim dubiously, “and this fellow really said to ask me – ”
“Oh, shut up,” grumbled Clem.“Would I be asking you if he didn’t? Thursday night, old son, and don’t forget.”
“Well, maybe – ”
“That’ll be all,” declared Clem. “It’s settled.”
So Jim went along, somewhat subdued at first and hanging back when they reached Number 20 Lykes, from beyond the closed door of which sounds of merriment issued. But Clem herded him inside and shut off escape, and then Jim was shaking hands with Art and assuring him that he was “glad to make his acquaintance.” Whereupon, Art, not to be outdone, replied gravely: “The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Todd,” and Jim made his way through a sea of protruding legs to a seat in a far corner, fortunately not observing the smiles that followed his progress. To his relief, he presently discovered that he knew three of the party, at least to speak to: Lowell Woodruff and Hick Powers and Larry Adams. The gathering was presently completed by the arrival of Gus Fingal and George Imbrie, the latter editor-in-chief of the school weekly, The Doubleay. The two were amusingly unalike, for Imbrie’s short, slim form reached only to the football captain’s shoulder, and whereas Gus’s big, square head was radiant with tow-colored hair that looked almost silvery in the light, Imbrie’s was clad in very dark locks slicked smoothly away from a pale, intellectual forehead. Imbrie wore tortoise-shell “cheaters,” although it was rumored that they were only for effect and aided his sight no more than Harold Lloyd’s aided his! With the arrival of the last guests the proceedings opened officially. That is, Art turned off the electric light, switched aside a newspaper that had covered the birthday cake and applied a match to the seventeen little pink candles. Loud applause followed and then, at a signal from Larry Adams, Art tried to blow out the candles in one mighty breath and failed because Gus slammed him between the shoulders just then. After that the cake was cut – with a clasp-knife for want of anything better – and the feast began.
Some hosts might have kept the cake until toward the end of the repast, but Art said it didn’t seem to him to matter whether you ate your cake first or last, just so you got it, and so it was devoured right along with the sandwiches and pickles and olives and ginger cookies and sweet chocolate and all the other delicacies. Of the gathering, however, four were out of luck, for although the football candidates at Alton were allowed more leeway in the matter of diet than before the days of Coach Cade, sweets were not in great favor, and so Jim, who, while not at the training table, was still bound in honor to observe training table rules, and Captain Gus and Powers and Adams had to be content with homeopathic portions of cake and to confine the balance of their menu to the sandwiches and olives. But there was plenty of tepid gingerale and they fared well enough.
Lowell Woodruff found a place next to Jim when the party reseated itself and did his best to be agreeable. Jim, however, still viewed him with suspicion and the conversation didn’t become animated, and after a while Lowell gave up and turned to his neighbor on the other side. On the whole, Jim didn’t have a very happy time at that party. Clem was separated from him by the width of the room and hidden for the most of the time by the table, and Jim felt rather out of it. He was glad when Gus Fingal’s departure broke up the gathering. He tried to tell his host politely that he had enjoyed his party, but was saved from the untruth when one of the others pushed him outside. In the jostling and confusion he got away without a word to Art. Returning to the next dormitory, Clem did all the talking. Perhaps it didn’t occur to him to ask if Jim had had a good time. At all events, he didn’t ask, and Jim was glad of it. Jim was a poor liar, and knew it.
That ended Jim’s social activities for some time. There were no more birthday parties among Clem’s friends, but Clem tried on several occasions to get Jim to accompany him on visits to other rooms, and Jim thanked him and declined firmly. Clem called him a hermit.
Following the Lorimer game Jim’s services were called on daily. Sometimes he got into the scrimmage for only a handful of minutes, infrequently he worked through a whole period. He had survived the second and last cut and had taken his place on the squad as a second-string tackle. There was even the possibility, indeed the probability, of getting into the Kenly Hall game, for the roster of tackles included only three others: Roice, Sawyer and Mulford. Jim was the least experienced of the lot, and at this stage he knew perfectly well that so far as playing ability went he was a bad fourth. But he had hopes of becoming as good as Mulford, at least. In more optimistic moments he even saw himself rivaling Willard Sawyer, who was the present incumbent of the right tackle position. What he couldn’t imagine was ever equaling Roice. “Rolls” was almost the best lineman on the team. Only Captain Fingal was graded above him by popular opinion.
Jim had not only held the weight he had brought back with him but had added three pounds to it, and while, later on, he frequently dropped those three during a hard afternoon, he always found them again. Had Jim been more experienced he might well have wondered sometimes at being retained on the squad. He had played football but three weeks or so before the present season and had not during those three weeks shown much ability. He was at least six pounds lighter than the position called for, since Alton always presented a heavy line. In general appearance, he did not suggest the ideal tackle. But Jim had seen little football and so it didn’t occur to him that there was anything unusual in his choice as a tackle. Not a few amateur critics, however, declared that Todd might be end material but would never be of any value as a tackle. He didn’t have enough weight, they said, and what he had wasn’t distributed properly. Besides, who was he, anyway, and what had he ever done to get where he was?
But Coach Cade wasn’t making a very great mistake. If Jim was somewhat lacking in weight – he was nine pounds lighter than Rolls Roice, for instance – he possessed two other of the necessary qualifications of a good tackle, and might later show that he had a third. Weight he lacked, mental ability he had not shown, but physical speed and stamina he did have. He was fast developing into the speediest candidate for his position, and Coach Cade, who held speed in the deepest reverence, was ready to forgive him many shortcomings. Also, Jim had hard muscles, muscles developed in the open air and at a greater variety of strenuous tasks than most boys know, and he had endurance. You might tire Jim, but you couldn’t tire him out. At least, no one ever had. Jim’s father could tell you of walking sixty miles between daybreak and sundown in the old days of logging in Maine; and Jim looked a whole lot like his father! Coach Cade couldn’t know of the boy’s stamina yet, but he did suspect it, and as time went on he was able to indulge in not a little self-gratulation, which is pleasant even to a football coach.
Once having become thoroughly interested in the game, Jim learned about twice as fast as he had before. At first he accepted instruction without giving it much thought. Now he sought the reason for everything he was taught, found it and understood what he was doing and why. Jim liked to know the logic of what he undertook. If he couldn’t discover a reason for doing a thing he didn’t do it unless some one forced him to. Then he did it only half-heartedly. His rules book helped him a lot. There were books that would have explained many things to him and saved him much thought, but he didn’t know of them; and studying things out for himself doubtless made him remember them better. He amused Clem about this time – I am speaking of the week between the Lorimer and Southport games – by buying a football of his own and keeping it on the closet shelf. Several times daily he would take it down and handle it; drop it on the floor and catch it as it rebounded, place it on the floor and pick it up with one hand, his long fingers wrapping themselves about the end like – as Clem phrased it – a starfish on a quahog. Sometimes Clem would look up to find Jim with the ball poised in his right hand as if he meant to hurl it straight through the window, and always when he studied his rules book the brown leather spheroid was in his lap. Clem told him one evening, in mild protest, that he was sickening.
“You fondle that silly thing like it was a baby! What’s the idea, Jim?”
“Just want to – to get used to it,” replied Jim. “Want to know what I can do with it. You see, shaped like it is, you can’t handle it just like you can a round ball, Clem.”
“My word! Think of that! And you discovered that all by yourself, too, didn’t you?”
“Shut up,” said Jim, grinning. “Say, just stand over there and toss me a few, will you?”
“Toss you – No, I’ll be switched if I’m going to turn this room into a gridiron. First thing I know you’ll be moving the furniture out and kicking the thing around!”
But he did toss the ball to Jim in the end, and Jim caught it various ways, studying each way, while Clem looked on and waited for the return of the ball with the expression of one humoring a lunatic. So far as Clem ever discovered that ball was never taken out of Number 15, until it went out for good, but it certainly saw a lot of handling there!
The Thursday before the Southport game Jim played a full fifteen minutes against the second team, and busy, strenuous minutes they were. He had been tried at left tackle and right tackle, and had discovered no preference, but to-day he went in between Smith, substituting Captain Fingal, and Borden, the regular right end. There had already been a fifteen-minute scrimmage with the scrubs, in which the big team had scored a solitary touchdown, and now the scrubs were aching for vengeance. Jim had his hands very full with the opposing guard when the first team had the ball, for the guard played wide and Jim had a big stretch of line to cover. But he was fast, and it soon developed that plays sent through the right of its own line were netting the first team more than those on the other side. Jim usually beat his opponent on starting, and he came up hard, with his back straight and a lot of power in his charge. He made mistakes still and was “called down” half a dozen times for one thing or another. But even the most experienced fared not much better that day. Twice Jim spilled a runner behind the line – once, alas, receiving as his reward harsh words because he should have gone for the interference instead – and he tackled well, using his body and not relying on his arms alone. On the whole, while he made no spectacular plays that afternoon, Jim came out of the fifteen-minute session with his stock higher than it had been, and when the Alton paper published the day’s line-up on Saturday morning, the sixth line read: “Sawyer or Todd.” But then, a hard game was not looked for and Coach Cade had planned to use several substitutes at the start. As it turned out, Jim didn’t get in until the third period was half over and the game was laid safely away, the score 26 to 9. But he showed up rather well while he played, which was until he got a wrenched knee a scant three minutes before the end, and emerged with a nickname. When he came off, limping, some sympathetic freshman shouted, “Atta boy, Slim!” And “Slim” Todd it was thereafter.