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St. Nick's Outlaws

By Jim Colombo


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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo


 Chapter 40


The previous Sunday Jim had sold programs at Kezar Stadium for the Washington


Redskins-San Francisco Forty-Niners football game.  The next Friday he was a


headhunter standing on the thirty-yard line at Kezar Stadium waiting for Dias to kick off. 


The whistle blew, and the game against Lowell began.  St. Nick’s kickoff team ran up to


the forty-yard line and Dias kicked the football.   They charged down the field like runaway


cars destined to collide.  The receiving team has eleven players.  They use five players to


form a wedge to create a crack or a seam for the running back to escape into the open


field pass the first wave of headhunters who attacked the wedge by throwing their bodies


at the blockers.  They were the sacrifice made to contain the running back.  It was like


getting into a car, and driving head on at the speeding car that was heading towards you. 


Each collision was different.  The receiving team executed an attack, and the kickoff team


tried to destroy it.  If the kickoff team stopped the runner from crossing the twenty-yard


line, they succeeded.  If the receiving team ran beyond the twenty-yard line, they


succeeded.  St. Nick's stopped the running back on the Lowell sixteen-yard line.  Once the


enemy was engaged and Jim got his first hit all of the butterflies were gone.  For three


hours the players concentrated on the game.  The crowd noise and the bands were a


constant roar that the players tried to ignore. 


            Lowell failed to make a first down, and had to punt.  Jim was a blocker for the


receiving team.  St. Nick's began on offense on their thirty-seven yard line.  Augie began


the first series by featuring Rensom running traps and sweeps on Bautista’s side.  Bautista


had his crocodile smile at lunchtime.  The first play was a sweep to the weak side, the left


side.  The flow of bodies was like a Swiss watch.  The line created the hole, Garcia sealed


the left side with Rensom following.  It was a play that the team had run hundreds of times. 


St. Nick's wanted to dictate the flow of the game with ball control: running.  Garcia blocked


the middle linebacker, allowing Rensom to run for six yards.  Rensom was a punishing


runner who never ran out of bounds.  He would rather stick his helmet in the tackler’s gut


and run over him.  St. Nick's played a game of attrition.  


The next play was a 31 blast: The play began, and the line opened a hole in the


middle.  Garcia quickly hit the hole and plowed through for seven yards. He saw some


daylight,  and turned right.  Teague, the tight end, was blocking the strong safety into the


path of Garcia, who was running at full speed.  Garcia stopped and tried to avoid the falling


player. The safety fell on Garcia’s legs.  When Garcia landed on the ground his right foot


was twisted and on fire.  He couldn’t move it.  The trainer ran to him.  Garcia was


squeezing the trainer’s leg with his right hand.  He wanted to see his leg.  “Lay down,” said


the trainer.


 “Is it broken?  Am I bleeding?” Asked Garcia. 


Lay down, God damn it,” said the trainer.  Garcia tried to look at his leg again. 


“It’s bad, is it…?”


 “Yeah.  It’s broken and your bleeding.  Now lay still so that I can stop the bleeding,”


said the trainer.  Garcia began to swear and pound his left fist on the ground.  Coach


Kepen yelled, ”Twenty-two.”  Jim suddenly realized that he was the starting fullback, and


ran on the field and joined the guys in the huddle.  Augie called 31 blast.   It would get Jim


into the flow of the game.  Bautista slapped Jim’s hip pads and said, “Let’s go, man.” 


The others ignored Garcia while he was being carried off the field on a stretcher.  Jim felt


bad for Garcia but was excited to play. He had never seen a leg twisted like that before. 


The team broke their huddle and ran up to the line of scrimmage.  Jim lined up behind


Augie.  Augie called out, “ THREE, THIRTY- ONE.  SET.  HUT ONE. HUT TWO.”  Jansen


snapped the ball to Augie, who handed the ball to Jim.  Jansen missed his block on the


middle linebacker.  Jim put his head down and ran over the middle linebacker, knocking


him to the ground.  He was so pumped with adrenaline that he could have run through a


wall.  Teague made the block on the strong safety that he should have made for Garcia. 


Suddenly, there was daylight, and Jim ran for twenty yards.  When Jim came back to the


huddle, Augie yelled, “Yeah!” and slapped his helmet.


The team continued running the ball, and eight plays later Rensom ran four yards


for a touchdown.  Dias kicked the extra point, and it was 7-0.  Jim was sitting on the bench


with Rensom.  Coach Kepen yelled, “Kickoff team.”  Jim realized he was still a headhunter


and ran out with the other ten guys.  Dias kicked off, and Jim ran down the field following


Elu. They hit the wedge like an explosion. The runner crashed into  a pile of twisted bodies 


on the eighteen-yard line.  Jim helped Elu get up, and they ran off the field.  He sat with


Elu and caught his breath. Augie put on his helmet and trotted onto the field.  Half way he


turned and said,  “Hey, twenty-two,”  Jim forgot that he was the starting fullback and ran


back onto the field.  Defense dictated the balance of the half.  St. Nick's scored a second


touchdown when the Lowell quarterback was hit from the blind side and fumbled.  Jensen


recovered the ball on the Lowell twenty-yard line. Three running plays later Rensom ran


eight yards for the score.  It was 14-0 at halftime.


The team entered the locker room at halftime, and there was silence in the locker room,


when typically coaches yelled instructions and players let emotions run wild.  The trainer


told Coach Kepen that Garcia had a compound fracture of the right leg and that he was at


French Hospital getting ready for surgery to set the leg.  Coach Kepen stood on a chair


and said, “Garcia is lost for the season.  Let’s dedicate the season to him.  We got a job to


do, and we’re going to get it done.”  The team yelled, “Yeah!” and got ready for the second




Each team scored a touchdown in the third quarter.  The forth quarter was a


defensive struggle and St. Nick's beat Lowell 21-7.  Rensom ran for 132 yards.  Jim ran for


86 yards and caught three passes for 38 yards.  Augie felt comfortable throwing to Jim


though he rarely threw to Garcia.  The team showered and dressed.  Jim walked out from


the dark tunnel and into the daylight.  Lupe was waiting for Jim and asked about Garcia. 


He told her Garcia had a broken leg and was out for the season.   “You’ll do fine, Cookie, “


she said with a loving smile.


Lupe had to work Saturday, so Jim went to see the guys at the Alley.  Cowens and


Bordi had made up and were talking again.  Papas came by to visit.  He was going to San


Francisco State to be a history teacher.  Papas and Jim joked about the Eskimo whores


and fishing eighteen hours a day at sea.  When Papas was asked about Nome, he said


that it hadn’t worked out. Papas felt uncomfortable and paused.  Then he said, “I saw the


captain of my fishing boat get killed.  I was in the alley taking a piss, when Captain De


Guzman and an Eskimo walked out into the alley.   They argued about something and the


Eskimo stabbed the captain with his hunting knife.  I hugged the wall.  The Eskimo looked


around, then he looked in my direction.  He began to walk towards me so I ran to the boat


and waited until the next morning to call Jim.  I wanted to get the hell out of Nome and fly


to Anchorage.”  Papas heard De Guzman's painful groan again and it sent a cold shiver


down his spine.


           Papas told the guys that his brother Nick was getting married in two weeks, and he


invited all of the guys to the wedding.  Jim said he would go with Lupe.  Papas wanted to


meet her.  They continued talking about their Alaskan adventures.  Bordi wanted to see


their tattoos, and they obliged.  The guys thought that they were cool.  Papas told Jim that


his real name was Demitrius Paparopoilus and the he was Greek Orthodox.  His father had


changed it to Jim Papas when he was a boy.  Papas tried out for the soph/frosh team at


State  and he was surprised at how big and strong the linemen were.  Papas saw that he


had no chance to make first string.  He didn’t mind, because it allowed him to concentrate


on school.     


            Sunday after church Lupe and Jim visited Garcia at French Hospital.  The lower


leg consists of two bones, the tibia and fibula.  Both were broken and the fibula had torn


the skin.  Garcia had stitches to close the cut and a pin to align the two broken bones. 


Jim saw the look in Garcia's eyes.  Garcia knew that he would never play again.   It was


like visiting Gilmore, knowing that a part of him was stolen.  Garcia would never run with


the wind again.  Garcia’s Portuguese girl friend, Maria walked in.  She and Lupe went to


Mission Dolores High School, and knew each other.  Introductions were made.  Jim and


Lupe had brought a couple of magazines for Garcia to read.  When they left the hospital,


Lupe asked, “What if it’s you next time?  What if you can’t play any more?” 


”I’ll miss it, but life goes on.  I learned that from my father.  I’ll miss playing football


and baseball very much.  But then, some day I’ll have to hang it up.  Then I will be involved


with changing diapers, and I’ll start playing golf.”


 “You can walk away from it?” 


“It is not a question of walking away.  You realize that the ride is over.  Garcia


and I talked about this once.  We hoped that the ride would last into college.  Sports


were our ticket to college.  I feel sorry for Garcia because he lost his ticket to college.  Now


that I have money for my college education, sports are just fun.” 


 “Am I fun?”  


 “Sure, Angel.  You’re lots of fun.”  Jim hugged her and whispered in her ear,


”You are the most important person in my life.  I can’t walk away from you.”


            “Me, too,” she said.


            They walked alone Geary Street and stopped at an ice cream shop.  She shook


her head and said, ”No.  I am a size five now, and I can’t eat that anymore.”  Jim asked


if she was in training, and she said, “Considering all the worrying I did while you had fun


in Alaska, and the fact that you now have to buy me a new wardrobe, I don’t think that


you can afford ice cream any more.” 


“Does that mean no?” Jim asked. 


            Jim said that he would pay half for her new clothes..  Lupe enjoyed her new


independence.   She was no longer the shy, fragile, chubby girl who had entered his life. 


She was now a confident and beautiful woman who made his life complete.  They walked


along Geary Street, and later took the bus home.  


            That night Jim asked his father what he thought about when he realized that he


had lost his leg.  Joe said, “ Your mother and I were married before I went overseas.  I was


twenty-four when I lost my leg. During rehabilitation I had memories of when I was on the


track team in high school. That was the past and I had a new life that I wanted to continue. 


I had a family to support, so I went back to school with the GI Bill.”  Joe wondered why Jim


had asked. 


            “I went to see Garcia today.”


 “Garcia will realize that life is an adjustment, not a straight line.”  He paused.  Then


he said,  “Every man needs three things in life: a belief in God, a belief in self, and the love


of a good woman.  I have all three and I believe so do you. ” 


“I do,” said Jim.  He thanked his father for giving the most precious gift that Joe


could give, his wisdom.  They started to shake hands, but Joe hugged Jim and said, 


“As you get older you realize how important family is.  You don’t mind hugging your old


man once in a while?”  


“Hell, no, “ said Jim.  Since the awards dinner they had become closer.  Jim


admired his father with a great deal of respect, and loved him more than Joe would know.




More next week...