The Loss of Bullard

Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
As a member of the 1959 Whittier High School football team. | Richard Nixon, Football, 1959, President,

I looked like Justin Bieber's little brother

I've got a confession to make. A major one. Believe me, this isn't easy. But I'll just go ahead and force it right out of my lips.

Are you ready for this? Okay. Here goes;

I rooted against my own football team in high school, Bullard High School in Fresno, California, Class of 1968. I'm a traitor, a subversive, a coward. I must also be a bad American. What kind of person would root against their own high school football team?
Let me explain.

Some of the boys in my class had by the age of 16 attained the early growth of a man's body. They looked like Brad Pitt. Towering under them was me. I looked like I was eight years old, like I was Justin Bieber's little brother.

I couldn't be like the big men on the high school campus were. They were like men. I was a child. They dated the gorgeous blonde cheerleaders, the big men on campus. I was afraid of them, in awe of them, a tiny big-nosed runt with pimples who was always aware of both his frailness and ugliness.

We were an all-white (no African Americans) school from the rich side of town. Our school produced some great football teams, and this was a stellar year (1968). We were undefeated, demolishing every other team. The local Fresno Bee newspaper sang our praises, the Bullard High Knights. The press nicknamed our quarterback "Mighty Monty."

High school for me because of my real or imagined physical infirmities and low self-esteem was a traumatic experience. We were required, forced, mandated, in other words you had to go, to pep rallies honoring our football team. We had to cheer these guys. Some of them had slapped me around, or threatened to. I was not allowed in their clique. I didn't hang out with them. I was after all, a little wimp.

Why would I cheer people who thought of me as a lesser being, an underling, and who treated me as such? Cheer and worship people who got their jollies at my expense?

Why would I cheer them?

The football coach, whose name was Norwood Eben, also taught a typing class, and I had him for a teacher. One day I did something to offend him; I can't remember what it was, but whatever it was, it was minor and also a misunderstanding based on ignorance.

Maybe it's who he thought I was he didn't like. One day, he mocked me in the class as a little wimpy coward in front of the other students. Now, in fact, in some ways, I was a wimpy little coward. But I didn't want to be. This was devastating to me. The class yearbook would run a huge picture of him and describe him as, "A friend to all."

Norwood has since passed on.

I'm sorry Norwood, sorry about saying this, but you didn't act like you were my friend. Maybe you just couldn't see at the time that I was a frail, sensitive, somewhat troubled, scared little boy completely overwhelmed by the pain of trying to grow up. Maybe you just couldn't see it from inside my eyes.

Maybe you had a bad day. You weren't my friend. But you sure loved your golden God-like boys on the football team.

I tried to deal with the situation by hiding as best I could. I turned into a hermit. I only showed up to those school events I was required to. I skipped every activity, every experience that could and should have brought me a few fond memories. I don't think my parents were even vaguely aware of my troubles. At the time, it was thought by many adults that teenagers didn't have troubles.

Many of the adults of that time viewed teens as something like a pet dog, always happy. They must have forgotten what it was like when they were teenagers.

Our team, The Knights, continued to smash every other high school football team. It was going to be a perfect championship season. Not one defeat. We were invincible.

For some reason, maybe my mom forced me to go; I ended up attending one game, the big game. We were facing a team from the poor side of town. They had some low income whites, Mexican kids and a few African Americans. Some of the parents from our upscale-oriented school referred to them as jigs, short for the racist epithet "jigaboo."

They kicked our butts. To the astonishment of the crowd, I watched our team get slaughtered right in front of my eyes.

This is painful for me to relate. I felt good. I enjoyed it. Sitting there, lonely, hideously ugly (I thought), I was happy watching them get wiped out. When we chanted, "Hit 'em again, hit 'em again, harder---harder!" I was chanting for the other team. And they did hit us harder.

Why would I cheer my own guys to glory when they had relegated me to the status of the Class N Word----racist meaning African American? Why would I when they treated me so bad?

John Sammon
John Sammon

John Sammon, a writer, actor as a space alien motorcycle biker in the 1978 movie Deathsport starring the late David Carradine, and Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings. |
Collectively, our senior class never got over this single defeat. It was devastating. Our perfect season was ruined by one loss. Our yearbook at the end of that school year sadly, piously recounted it for all posterity. "The team didn't lose," the year book said. "Bullard lost, and it lost to a good team."

In other words, the entire school lost. I agree with the "good team" part, but the rest was perfectly Freudian. In other words, the aspirations and unique differences and talents between approximately 600 students, half of them girls who didn't play football at all; it came down to this, the ability of 15 hand-picked rough-neck man-sized boys to knock heads.

It was like this was the only thing that mattered, nothing else at the school did.

This is the same dysfunctional paranoia and mythology that leads adults who support a political party to think their party never makes a mistake, and the other political party never does anything right. It's them against us. Unfortunately, it's also a mentality we carry into our dealings with other countries.

Just because we lost one game, had one off-night, because we weren't perfect, we all lost.

Well excuse my French. But I didn't lose a dammed thing. In fact, I gained.

They, the football players, didn't represent me. I had already lost part of my humanity in high school. Those guys, the big men, they lost. They were the ones who practiced and reaped the glory and reveled in their superiority. It's only justice they experience a lesson in humility.

I'm sorry, but I loved it! And still do.

I think the one valuable thing to me that I came away from this is that ever since, I've had a well-developed empathy for the underdog, because of my own painful experience as one.

In the end, this was better than scoring a touchdown.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:08 PM EDT | More details


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