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Little Joseph

By Edward A. Rinderle
Posted: 10/13/2022

Little Joseph


By Ed Rinderle


It's a crisp, autumn morning, and Ted awakens early, as usual. He gets dressed and embarks on his customary walk about his suburban neighborhood. He finds that these walks provide the best time for him to think. He muses some about the future, but mostly he reminisces. He hears the muffled sounds from a neighboring home; a group of kids has cranked up the Madden football video game on their laptops. Ah yes – autumn is the time for football. He sighs at thoughts of how different it was way back in the 1950s when he was the age of those kids. There were no video games, not even any laptops. Heck, barely any computers! Kids back then played football outdoors, unsupervised, with bruised and scraped footballs, in any venue they could find. Ted remembers . . .


A touch football game is in progress between parked cars in the street in front of Ted's childhood home. Ted is playing quarterback for a pickup team consisting of his good buddies, Marty and Sam, and “Little Joseph”. Little Joseph is a recent graduate of kindergarten, and he relishes this opportunity to play touch football with the “big kids”. The opposition consists of Tommy at quarterback and Mike, Raymond, and Herbie filling out the foursome. It's getting late, and Tommy's team has a small lead. Ted's guys have the ball with one more chance to score before dinner time and win the game.  


Ted's team huddles up to get instructions for the upcoming play. Ted directs Marty and Sam using a code learned from his dad. Joseph doesn't know the codes, but Ted puts a hand on his shoulder with these instructions: “Little Joe, run over next to the green Chevy and turn around”.  


The boys break the huddle. Marty picks up the ball and tosses it to Ted to start the play. Almost immediately Ted notices that Sam has put a great move on his defender, Raymond, and is breaking into the clear. Ted hurls the ball Sam's way. Sam makes the catch on the run, but with a burst of speed, Raymond catches him and tags him near the “goal line”, marked by a tar-filled crack across the street. Meanwhile, a distraught Little Joe merely watches the action from his station next to the green Chevy. 


The boys are whooping it up; they are just a few yards away from the winning touchdown, and they have four tries to make it. Amid the premature celebrations, Ted notices a frown on Little Joseph's face. “I never get the ball!” moans the little guy. “You'll get your chance” promises Ted. 


Tommy's team is determined not to give up easily. They manage to foil the next three plays, as they blanket Sam and Marty with stifling pass coverage. But Ted notices that in so doing they have ignored Little Joe. “I'm not sure if I've ever seen Little Joe catch a pass”, muses Ted. “But now seems like a good time to give him a shot.”


Ted huddles with his guys to prepare for their last try at a game-winning touchdown. Ted calls a play that sends both Sam and Marty to the left side of the street. Then leaning down to look Little Joseph in the eye, Ted gives him his assignment: “Hey, Joe. Don't look, but do you remember that blue Ford on the right parked in the back of the end zone? I want you to run over in front of it and turn around. OK?” Little Joseph gives a tentative nod. He sees something different in Ted's eyes., and it scares him. But only a little. 


Ted's team breaks the huddle. Ted checks and sees that Little Joseph has fixed his eyes on the blue Ford. Marty tosses the ball to Ted, and again the three receivers are off and running. As Ted expected, Mike, Raymond, and Herbie have all rotated to the left to blanket both Marty and Sam. But little Joe stands all alone in front of the Ford, barely 20 feet from Ted. Ted lofts the ball underhanded in Joseph's direction, right on target. The ball nestles gently against Joe's chest. “He's got it!” cries Marty. But then the ball begins to slide down Joe's shirt. It bounces a bit over his belt. “Oh, no!” yells Sam. But then, at the last second, Little Joseph squeezes the ball between his knees, grabs it in his hands, and lifts it over his head. “Touchdown!” he exclaims. Marty and Sam immediately burst into cheers and jump in gleeful delight. Marty lifts Joe up on his shoulders while Sam shouts “You did it, Little Joe! You did it!” Across the street, Tommy and his team can only shake their heads in disbelief.


Ted's glee matches his teammates, but mixed in is a sense of relief. He is so proud of Little Joe. As Marty lowers Joe to the ground, Ted leans down, shakes his hand, and says “Way to go, my man.”


. . . Ted smiles at the memories. He lost contact with “Little Joseph” soon after that touchdown play. Joe moved with his family to a different state and a different life. Ted got involved in myriad high school and college studies and activities. He has barely thought of Joe in so long. But today he wonders what Joe is up to now after all these years. He wonders if Joe even remembers that touchdown play. 


As time rolls on, seemingly small events dot our lives. Most of the time, we are not aware of the impact these events may have. But does it really matter? Ted knows that touchdown made a difference to him. Perhaps it made a difference to Joe, too. 


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