Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Punt, Pass and Kick - today and yesterday

Two stories about Punt, Pass and Kick, the kids football skills contest that crowned its champions last weekend. One story takes place 40 years ago in an open field in small-town New Jersey, witnessed by six kids in dungarees. The other played out at a packed pro stadium and in front of a national TV audience.

First, a family story. The protagonist is my older brother David, now an attorney in Philly. We grew up in Freehold, New Jersey, a working class town of about 10,000 people best known as the birthplace of rocker Bruce Springsteen. Now, I turn over the blog to my big brother:

"In the early 60s, I think it may have been 1964, Ford started its Punt, Pass & Kick competition. I have a vague recollection of signing up in a supermarket at the age of ten. When dad learned of my interest, he encouraged me daily to practice the three skills so I would be prepared when the performance day arrived.As football was a distant second favorite sport to baseball, there was much room for improvement. Since passing resembled throwing a baseball, I could get off a decent throw, but using my feet for punting or kicking was a very different picture. But truthfully it didn't matter much to me, I just felt like signing up for this new contest. Dad thought I should care more.

"The day arrived and attendance was skimpy. There were three or four different age categories. When they called for the 10-year-olds it was just me and one other kid. I beat him! First place prize was a neat football jacket and certificate. My competitor got the second place award. I don't know what they did with the third place prize.

"I loved the jacket and wore it home proudly. You should have seen the look on dad's face when I arrived home as the winner. He clearly thought this would be a humbling learning experience for me - can't excel without putting in the hard work. But sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."

Next, the story of Anna Grant of Stratham, N.H., the national winner of last year's PPK confab in the girls' age 14-15 division.

Short story, actually. In January 2008, between the third and fourth quarters of a playoff game at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Anna stepped forward to be recognized as the new national champ. As a New Englander, she was "representing" her hometown team, the New England Patriots. She wore a PPK Patriots jersey. She smiled. And as her name was announced, the sellout crowd of Colts fans booed her. Yes, booed a 14-year-old girl.

Grant was back in the finals last weekend at halftime of the NFC playoff game in Charlotte. No boos this year. Anna finished third.

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