January 20, 2018 8:50:03 PM
The football hung in the air, looming larger and larger against the dark November sky, glory tumbling toward me in a slow arc.
It was a November evening in 1976, late in the fourth quarter in a game against a team I cannot recall.
My team, Tupelo High School, held a lead sufficient enough that inserting me into the game on defense was not considered a risk. The worst that could happen would be mere cosmetics.
It was late in the season of my senior year and although I had played for three years, I hardly ever played on defense. So the opportunity for my first interception, and a real chance to not only intercept the pass, but return it for a touchdown, seemed almost certain.
The best description I can share of how I was feeling as the ball drifted lazily toward me is that of a dog with its nose pressed against a butcher shop window.
My career at that point had been nothing remarkable. Most of the time, I played wide receiver on a wishbone offense so the opportunities to catch passes were rare and of little consequence -- two, maybe three catches a game for 15 to 20 yards. No touchdowns. I mainly blocked. All the glory went to the backs.
So my best chance for a touchdown came not on offense, but on that November night when the matter had long been settled and I was playing defense. But you grab glory when and where you can find it.
My time was at hand.
The pass was a desperation heave and the intended target was nowhere in sight, so if I didn't catch it, no one would.
No one did, either.
Unknown to me, another pair of hungry eyes had spotted the football and was moving greedily toward its earth-bound destination.
His name was Malcolm Smith, a teammate and a sophomore.
As the ball came down, suddenly, two Smiths were fighting for the ball where only one had been before. The ball slipped away from us, landing on the ground and with it, my last, best chance for minor glory.
I glared at Malcolm with disgust, thinking to myself that he had violated an important protocol.
He was a sophomore, and would have plenty of chances for glory, especially since he had already been pegged as the starting quarterback the following season.
I was a senior, a senior who never scored a touchdown or had an interception.
I had Malcolm Smith to thank for that.
I said I didn't remember hardly any of the details of the game. But there was one more detail I had forgotten.
Until recently, I could not remember the name of the snot-nosed ingrate sophomore who robbed me of that illusive prize on that November evening.
Social media provided that detail.
I was exchanging comments with an old Tupelo classmate on Facebook a few days ago, when his name and comment appeared on the thread. I knew at once he was that sophomore whose name, but not his infamy, I had forgotten.
After high school, Malcolm joined the U.S. Coast Guard and made it a career. He's retired now and living in St. Louis.
I asked if he remembered the play.
He didn't. Or at least he "says" he didn't.
Why would he? Fair question.
Even so, I'm glad his name popped up, even if it did remind me of that one unfortunate moment.
Now, I realize how little it matters now and remember how much it seemed to matter then.
That's the way life goes.
Our measure of what is important, as opposed to what we think is important, is altered by time.
I still should have caught that ball, though.
And I still hold Malcolm Smith responsible that I didn't.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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