As a kid growing up with three older brothers, we kept ourselves amused by playing a game called knee-tackle football.
The “field” would be in our upstairs hallway, a 14-foot-long terrain no wider than a yardstick. We’d use a regulation Rawlings football. The game was straightforward: score touchdowns and win bragging rights over your brother; until we played again the next night, usually around 9 or 10 pm.
On our knees at opposite ends of the hallways in kickoff formation, one of us would kick (throw the ball) to the other guy – often a bullet at the breastplate hoping he’d bobble it and you would recover deep in his territory. Possession was seven-tenths of the law in knee tackle football.
If the returner hauled it in, we would sprint on our knees straight at each other with physical colliding top of mind.
Around mid-hallway, we’d wrestle until the ball carrier went down. First and ten; no first down chains were necessary because each possession ended up being a wrestling dual more than a football game.
There were only a handful of plays that were executable – and mostly ineffectual. The sweep was out because the hallway was too thin; you couldn’t get much of an angle and had to cut up field right at your brother. You couldn’t throw a sideline back-shoulder pass to yourself either because it was too hard to move fast enough on your knees with the rush bearing down on you. I once saw Speedy Gonzalez play ping pong against himself and he may have been the only guy capable of completing a back-shoulder down and out to himself on his knees.
The only play I ever found to be effective was a quick hike (like Marino did against the Jets one time) and shove the ball underneath my brother’s arm ahead and then try to beat him to the fumble recovery. It sometimes worked and would go for what would be, on a real football field, about a 28-yard gain.
Other than that, you had only three other options; halfback dive left and a cloud of rug dust; halfback dive right and a cloud of rug dust; or a straight through the other guy’s chest using the top of your head as a lead blocker. This play became a wrestling match. Stripping the ball became the big focus like playing.
Most of the time the games would end when my Dad would come upstairs and tell us to stop playing because we were making too much noise. He said we were banging into the walls and damaging them. He told us to stop goofing off and do our homework.
But sometimes Dad wasn’t home. Then we would play the game a lot longer. It got sweaty, exhausting, and claustrophobic. It was raw competition.
As we headed for the showers, we’d trash talk about who was going to win the next night.
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