I still think Dez caught that ball in Green Bay.
And it was a great catch.
But, to be honest, we made better catches on Nebraska Street when I was growing up in Norman.
Dez only had to deal with one short defensive back.
We had to deal with cars and trucks, concrete and darkness, and angry mothers.
The street light was in front of Steve Madden’s house, at the corner of Berry Road and Nebraska Street, opposite his fire hydrant.
Or “far hydrant” as Steve said.
The street light was essential to summer football.
Because, when we were 10 or 12 years old, there was no way on Earth we were going home when the sun went down.
We were 1000% committed to perfecting the ability to catch a football, rifled from the other side of the street, in the dark, AND get both feet in bounds, so the pass was complete under NFL or NCAA rules.
It would have helped Dez a lot if he’d grown up on Nebraska Street in the Sixties. His concentration and reflexes would have been better. If he’d lived.
To make a truly great catch on Nebraska Street, it had to be deep in the 4th quarter (after 9pm), and involve the risk of death.
Especially when Grampa Mac’s beat up old El Camino would skid round the corner at maybe 35 mph, bounce off the curb, and become a real hazard for street football players.
We had no sissy rules or time-outs. So if you happened to be in the path of Grampa Mac, that was just your tough luck.
You STILL had to make the catch or be a wussy. And millions of people were watching, at least in our little minds.
A guy could only go home after he’d snagged 10 vertical sideline catches in a row. Drop one, even if your Buddy threw a duck, and you had to start all over again.
And that would make you be another 15 minutes late getting home.
Not 15 minute late for supper. Or 15 minutes late for bath time. Or even 15 minute late for bed time.
We’re talking 15 minute late for the final, and we mean final, motherly shriek from the other end of Nebraska Street; a shriek that would include all three of your God-given names along with a clear promise to kill you if you were not home right this minute.
But, even if you loved your shrieking Mother, when you are a young boy, with visions of playing for the Dallas Cowboys (me), or the stupid Green Back Packers (Steve), aggravating your Mother was not that big a concern.
Winning. Catching the ball — at full speed or slow motion. Keeping both feet in. Bleeding but not crying. And never being a woosy.
These were the important things to a young boy.
My greatest Nebraska Night Football catch of all time was not only brilliant, it came off the perfect pass route, avoided deadly Grampa Mac, skirted Steve’s Dad’s Rural Electric Co-op truck, saw me drag both feet in bounds, and included a nearly fatal compound elbow fracture.
And, Dez, you could have had as many damn replays as you wanted, it was still a catch.
The play required Steve to QB and stand in the middle of Berry Road (a major arterial in Norman).
I was supposed to run a simple down-out-and-down, making the catch about 25 yards downfield, directly behind his Dad’s work truck.
But right before the snap (on two – Hut, HUT – always on two) – out of the corner of his eye, Steve saw the weaving headlights racing down Berry Road toward him.
It was Grampa Mac who was basically blind at night.
Steve gave me a look that said, “you realize we should get out of the street or we are both going to die?”
And I gave him a look back that said “Run the play. This is going to be great!”
So “Hut, HUT”.
Now, I don’t want to knock Dez, but he could have learned a lot from my release from the line of scrimmage.
I was off like a gazelle.
Steve had to back-pedal to avoid getting clipped by Grampa Mac as he skidded the El Camino around the corner.
As he was falling backwards, Steve managed to loft the ball really high into the night.
By then, I’d run the down-and-out part of the route, given a head-fake to the imaginary defender, and then cut straight down the middle of the road, fluently avoiding the pavement that had buckled.
And I was hauling ass, because I knew Grampa Mac was bearing down on me.
Like Dick Butkis with headlights.
It actually was fortuitous that Grampa Mac had his headlights on that night. Sometimes he forgot to turn them on.
Because it was so dark, and Steve had to heaved the ball so high, I lost it in the night. A humiliating incompletion loomed.
But when Grampa Mac’s headlights reflected just briefly off the white half circle painted around the end of the football, I zoned in and immediately adjusted my pattern.
My male instincts — almost certainly honed when cavemen had outrun Velociraptors to the cave — told me this was going to be close.
Very, very close.
If I was not fast enough, Grampa Mac was going to run right over me. And drag my carcass 100 yards to his house.
All would be lost.
I would be dead.
Worse, I would be a wussy.
And Steve would never, ever let me forget it.
I hated that guy.
Without bragging or making a fuss, I have to admit that I made the single greatest, one-handed, perpendicular, not-getting-smashed-by-Grampa Mac, and getting-both-feet-down-in-bounds catch in the history of the world.
It was a thing of beauty.
For a brief moment in time.
Then I came down hard, which was nothing new.
But since our games had never involved this particular front yard, I did not know about the iron water meter cover.
At least, not until my elbow smashed into it.
Now, I don’t know what it feels like to have 10 billion volts of electricity surge right into your elbow, as it gushes blood like a fricken river, right when your Mother is stomping toward you from the other end of the street, carrying a flashlight and shrieking threats and all of your God-given names.
But I bet it would be pretty much like what I experienced on that fateful night.
Once Mom realized that I might actually be crippled for life, she stopped screaming long enough to give me a once over.
When she realized that I was not technically dying, she grabbed me by the bleeding elbow and started to drag me home.
At which point Steve expressed his heartfelt emotions.
“Nice catch. Gimme back my ball.”
Somehow I’d forgotten that it was still tucked under my badly broken and bloody elbow.
Yeah, Dez could have learned a lot on Nebraska Street.
And my Cowboys would be in the Super Bowl.