By Lindsay Rico
Why did I decide to play tackle football in the 6th grade? Ever see the movie “Little Giants”? It’s about a ragtag football team with a coach who is just as much of a reject as his players. The one girl (they call her “Icebox”) is one of the best on the team. The team (of course) wins the championship against the very team these players had been rejected from at the beginning of the season.
Movies are movies for a reason. They aren’t realistic—you don’t say, “Hey, I could do that. I could make that happen.” But that’s exactly what I did.
After convincing my dad to sign me up, I realized that football isn’t actually as glamorous as the movies make it seem. To sum our practices and training up in one phrase: Football is running. Everywhere I went—I ran. If it was a break, the team would run to the water. If we were being punished, we ran up and down a hill at the end of the field for what seemed like an eternity. If we actually did something impressive, we still ran, but it was a shorter distance.
Then again, football is also hitting. My coach would always say if the play has nothing to do with you—if it’s going the opposite way as you or if you fudge your assignment in some way—put a “hurt” on someone. Hit someone. Anyone. It’s the least you can do to help your team. We did tons of drills that involved tackling someone and getting tackled at different angles and in various situations.
So I guess football is running and hitting.
There was one particular moment, however, that I value the most out of all the crazy events that occurred during my two seasons playing for the Indians. It was a moment when I compiled the most important lessons my coach had taught and used them to my advantage: I was playing cornerback on a particular play and the ball was being run on the other side of the field. I was jogging over to see if I could help out at the breakdown when I saw him. A lineman was charging at me from the opposite direction. I knew what he was going to do: he was trying to get the angle on me so that he could lay me out.
My coaches had warned us that this might happen. “Keep your head on a swivel!” they barked at us. Football is not a sport immune to cheap shots. Like many sports, if the ref doesn’t see—then it’s perfectly legal. But one of my coaches made an extra effort to warn me in particular and at that instant I realized why. Many of my teammates were nearby with heads turned, jogging slowly to where the play was occurring, completely oblivious. Yet yet this player had chosen to target me. I had made a great effort during the season to be like any other male player on the team but this kid who got a peek at my ponytail decided that this girl who had the audacity to play against him needed her clock cleaned.
As he came nearer, one thought occurred to me: Maybe I should just let this kid hit me. I mean, that is what a lot of young women are taught right? That boys don’t know any better and that there are some things that they will never understand. That we should let boys be boys—men be men? I was convinced that the only thing that kept this boy from “being a boy” was me. I was also aware of how great of a hit it would be and how hard I would hit the ground and how long it would take me to recover from his cheap shot. I would have to be sacrificed for the sake of his pride and the running standard that girls should not play football.
But then I heard coach’s voice in my head yelling “Thattaway, Rico. You kept your head on a swivel and he sees you but he doesn’t see you seeing him. So why don’t you knock this kid into next week?” And I did. I moved at the very last second and checked him right in the chest. He went down right on his back. Hard. It was there, too, on the reel the next week as we reviewed the game’s film.
On or off the field, there is always someone looking to knock you down. Football gave me tools I didn’t have before. Remember: Keep your head on a swivel.