Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Fifteen seconds of fame

By Monte Lazarus

Andy Warhol, in 1986, said, “In the future everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes.” Little did Andy know but, on November 9, 1946, I actually celebrated 15 seconds of fame.

It happened on a Saturday. At Yankee Stadium, the “Football Game of the Century” was ready for kickoff. There were about 80,000 fans to see unbeaten #1 Army against unbeaten #2 Notre Dame. Some of the greatest college stars were on the two teams: Davis, Blanchard and Tucker for Army and the great quarterback, Johnny Lujack for Notre Dame. Notre Dame was determined to atone for the 45-0 shellacking of 1945.

Just across the street there was a somewhat smaller field (now the site of the new Yankee Stadium). Except for the size of the crowd–I recall about eight people–the game was equally important to my team –the Mighty Morris Avenue Redskins. We were scheduled to be locked in mortal combat with some team whose name long ago escaped me. Our Morris Avenue Redskins were undefeated in the local Police Athletic League, and we hungered to be league champions.

The Morris Avenue Redskins were well equipped for the times. Before the game we checked our gear: I had a pair of high top cleats about three sizes too big. They were fine since I stuffed the toes with paper-the Bronx Home News. We wore leather helmets of various colors, shapes and sizes, but no facemasks. Our shoulder guards were essentially made of some kind of cardboard. We were proudest of our crimson and white jerseys that we wore when we rode the subway in full regalia to the park. There was no sissy locker room for us.

We even had a coach. Mostly he had us run in place, then flop forward, backwards and sideways. That was his way of keeping us in great shape. We made up our own plays. The T Formation that was popularized by the Chicago Bears in the early ‘40’s was way too advanced for us; besides our quarterback was only about 5’ 5” tall. Our basic formation was modeled loosely on the New York Giants A Formation. We played both offense and defense, unlike today’s football specialists. I played offensive “wingback” mostly as a blocker, and I caught (or tried to catch) the occasional passes a game that we threw. I also returned kicks and played safety on defense.

Our best running back showed up with two black eyes and a broken nose. The previous week we played in a pouring rain. He had the only really long cleats to give him traction in the mud, so he ran the ball something like 14 straight times. We won, congratulated him, and then quickly disappeared when he went home to show the family his eyes and nose.

The crowd at Yankee Stadium was pretty noisy. Believe it or not they drowned out our eight fans. Along about the third quarter of a tight game we decided to try a trick play based on an Ohio State play that I found in some obscure book. It called for three backs handling the ball, and the wingback winding up with it. That’s why I loved it – my chance to run. In any event we befuddled the defense with our razzle-dazzle, and I got through the line, only to get sandwiched between two safeties. I moved left, but one guy was there; I moved right, but the other guy was there; so I did what only seemed sensible. I ran between them. I guess they couldn’t believe anyone would be that dumb. Anyway, they both missed and I was on my way to my only touchdown of the year.

Now the best part: As I got to the goal line Yankee Stadium went berserk. It was deafening. I knew in my heart and soul that the huge roar was for me, and I believe that to this day. (Note: It may be claimed that the cheer was for Johnny Lujack who made a game-saving tackle on Doc Blanchard, but my story is true.)

Army and Notre Dame played to a 0-0 tie. The Morris Avenue Redskins won, by more than my touchdown. We were champions. I didn’t get 15 minutes of fame, but I’m very happy with my 15 seconds.

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