St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
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
“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
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
“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...