Why football? What is it about this particular sport that so many people have fallen in love with? For me, that is an easy question to answer so sit back and enjoy my story! I’ll never forget my first introduction to the sport of football. I was seven years old and had just finished playing in Robert Tiedeman’s yard, a neighborhood friend. We went up to his room and as I walked in I saw something very funny hanging on the back of his chair. It looked like a pair of underwear but it was strange looking underwear. It had a couple of elastic straps attached to each side of what appeared to be the front of the underwear. What was strange was that there was no back to the underwear so I asked Robert “what the heck type of underwear are these?”
He replied as only a kid could and said “those aren’t underwear stupid, it’s a jock strap!” Confused, I asked “what the heck is a jock strap”? He said “you wear it to protect your thing, you know, geez”! “Why the heck would you wear something like that over your thing” I said? He replied, “I don’t wear it all the time, only when I’m playing football”. He then proceeded to pull a helmet and a pair of shoulder pads out of his closet. “See, I wear this stuff at practice and that’s when I put on the jock strap stupid!” “Wow, those are cool” I replied, “can I try them on”? I proceeded to put on the shoulder pads and then the helmet. I walked over to the mirror and gazed at myself in amazement. “These are so cool, I look like a warrior! I want to play football, can I play on your team?” I was hooked! I ran back down the street towards my house as excitedas a kid on Christmas Eve! That’s when it all started.
After pleading with my father to play football on Robert’s team he eventually gave in, I became a Cougar! The Cougars were in a league called the Young American League (YAL). At my first practice the coach asked everyone to pick a position. He had the positions marked on the grass so I quickly ran to the spot named Center because this is where the ball was. All I knew was I wanted to touch the ball on every play so Center seamed like a logical position! At all of about four feet tall and probably around fifty pounds I began my football career as a Center just because I would be able to touch the ball on every play! I was so excited! Here is the ironic twist to my introduction to football. I actually grew up next door to Joel Collier, who was the defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos at the time. He was the architect of the famed “Orange Crush” defense. At that age, however, I only knew of football by what I had seen on television and I had no idea that Mr. Collier was a coach, much less a coach in the NFL. I was friends with his son, Joel Jr., but I never really paid attention to what his dad did for a living as we were more interested in throwing rocks across the water of the local pond or playing war games by the creek in the neighborhood.
An even funnier revelation, now that I look back on it all, were the times Joel and I spent in the basement of his house watching real to real films of football games and laughing at how we could make all the players run backwards in slow motion by clicking a button! Little did I know at the time that this was where Mr. Collier spent hours and hours breaking down film of opposing NFL offenses. When he was old enough Joel joined me on the Cougars a year later as he was one year younger than me. You had to be at least seven years old to play in the YAL. As I learned about the game of football I also learned that Mr. Collier was a pretty important guy…very cool! Being teammates, as well as next door neighbors, I can remember the many pick-up football games Joel and I played in his backyard with his father watching us as he and Mrs. Collier sat on the back porch. Often, Mr. Collier would have players over to his house, players such as Randy Gradishar, Louis Write, Billy Thompson, Tom Jackson, and so on. Little did I know of the greatness of these players because, after all, I was just a kid being a kid! Greater are the memories, as well as the importance of them and how they affected my life, now that I look back on them!
This is how it all began for me and it was the starting point of a sport that has shaped my life and made me who I am now. As this is not an autobiography of my football career I will jump forward in time, beyond my experiences as a high school player, college player, professional player, high school coach, college coach, and professional coach to the point where I am at now, as one of the founders of My Football Mentor. Football is a sport that ignites emotion, determination, work ethic, perseverance, character, comradery, and unity just to name a few. You’ve probably heard a hundred different words that would describe the positive impact that the sport of football has been to so many individuals.
We’ve all heard the quotes and we’ve also heard them applied to so many other aspects of life other than the game itself. This is what makes it such a great game, a game that has literally shaped the characters of so many lives. This game has made me who I am more than any other influence in my life. The game alone has taught me lessons and molded my character such that it has allowed me to succeed in whatever I have put my mind to. I owe my life and who I am to this sport so my indebtedness could only be reciprocated in one way… to pass on to others what I have gained from this great game…to help create My Football Mentor!
Coach Van Tassel