The hand that rocks the cradle may rule the world, but football coaches are kings, in Oklahoma or Singapore.
I was still jet-lagged in 1982, when my buddy dragged me straight from Changi Airport to the Singapore American School’s football field.
Even though an oilfield company had spent $250,000 sodding the field, the annual monsoon rains had turned it into glop.
Still, over the next three wet seasons, when temperatures and humidity were always in triple digits, that’s where we spent our Saturdays, amidst the hotdogs, spring rolls and cheerleaders.
Our SAFL (Singapore American Football League) teams won a championship in 1984, finished in the middle once, and dwelt in the cellar once.
The season we “won the ring”, we had a pro offense that ran like a Swiss timepiece, a cat-quick, stunting defense, and the finest coaching staff in all of Asia.
All of which is a big, fat lie.
We had one giant kid, who ended up going to Notre Dame, and we handed him the ball about 50 times a game.
He would stomp down field, crushing, maiming or carrying the opposition’s entire defensive team. It was great.
During one particular practice toward the end of our champeenship season, when my Head Coach buddy was offshore on an oil rig somewhere, I became the default head coach.
Unlike my buddy, who believed in discipline above all else, I preferred to have a bit of fun with the 9- to 12-year-olds.
So I had the giant kid lie on the ground on one side of the football, and the rest of the team lie on the other side.
I’d blow the whistle, and then watch pandemonium break out, as the entire team tried to tackle the giant kid.
And they could not do it. They could swarm on him, like ants, but the best they could do was slow him down.
We ended practice with sprints — they could stop when they beat me, as I ran backwards. They’d still be running if I hadn’t cut them some slack.
I thought that was a great practice. No one got hurt, and the kids had a ball.
I’d played a lot of football, but I’d never coached. My buddy knew squat about football, but he was already a Dad, and he had learned to be incredibly tough and pragmatic in the oilfields.
His football strategy was basic and effective:
- at the beginning of the year, run the kids absolutely to death, and then run them some more, to get their attention;
- find a kid who can throw the football, and who won’t cry when you scream at him, and make him your Quarterback;
- make the tallest, rangiest kid on the team the Split End and throw him the ball, a lot;
- and, most importantly, make the hugest kid on the team the Running Back, and if you don’t have a giant… wait until next year
My buddy’s system was not rocket science. And my football knowledge was limited to having played for the awe-inspiring Cleveland Cougars, West Wildcats and Norman High Tigers.
But, in Singapore, we were freaking Barry Switzer and Bud Wilkinson, complete with stretchy coaches’ shorts.
I mean, Singaporeans knew nothing about “gridiron” — the company that put the Cardinals on our helmets had the birds facing backwards.
Perhaps for that very reason, the whole concept of giving expat kids a piece of authentic American pie while they were 12,000 miles from home was really important.
Interestingly, our efforts made more than a few lasting impressions.
One of my buddy’s most treasured keepsakes is a “thank you” letter that the giant kid wrote to him soon after he’d earned a scholarship to Notre Dame.
I never got a letter like that.
But maybe 10 years after I’d returned to the States, I did have a moment.
I was staying at a hotel in Houston, waiting for my new home to be completed. A vaguely familiar guy walked up to me, shook my hand, and thanked me for coaching his kid a decade earlier in Singapore.
And for that brief, shining moment, I was “Coach Switzer”.
Click HERE if you want to see how awesome the Singapore American Football League still is.