When I was a sophomore in high school I had a learning experience which has occasionally stood me in good stead over the years.
It was August, the Dog Days of Summer, and the dreaded two-a-days on the gridiron practice field.
I hadn't played or practiced with the upperclassmen before, so this was new football territory for me. I'd always done okay in pickup games and on the junior high and frosh squads, but this post-freshman football was, in my world, the big leagues. All of those juniors and seniors were famous and had been to State. I was feeling pretty small and wimpy.
One day we were scrimmaging and it was hot and nasty and exhausting. I was punching it out in the trenches on the O-line and getting ground down to a nubbin. I was soaked in sweat and fighting for air and more thirsty than I'd ever been in my life.
The coaches called a momentary break and reshuffled the sides. I found myself on the other side of the ball occupying the middle linebacker position. I'd practiced there a bit and kinda-sorta knew what to do. Tackle the ball carrier on runs up the middle. Move laterally to string out wide running plays. I had no idea what to do on a pass play but figured I'd mill about smartly and see what happened.
Anyway, the first play was a run up the gut. I think it was a trap play. The running back was the senior Monster who'd been to State and made both All Conference and All State. The play was well blocked and the senior monster came right at me. So, sophomore, first time in the bigs, unsure and uncertain, facing the best running back in the state. I backpedaled. The monster ran over me.
On the sideline Coach Frank exploded. "WTF are you doing!?! WTF are you going!?! Attack the ball! Wrap up!"
"Well blankety-blank," I thought to myself. "How'm I 'posed to tackle a superstar? Firetruck!"
Next snap, same play. I didn't backpedal, which was one for me. I lurched toward the Monster and flung my arms out, then made a halfhearted attempt to tackle him. He juked, I ate grass.
Coach Frank exploded in apoplexy. "WTF are you doing!?! Evertson!!! Blangblammit WTF are you doing!?! Attack the blangblammed ball and wrap the firetruck up, BLANGBLAMMIT!!!"
Okay. Now I was embarrassed. Really Embarrassed. And pi$$ed. Really pi$$ed.
Third snap. Same play. Somehow I came up with a plan. Treat the Monster just like a tackling dummy. Face up, eyes open and focused, drive through the Monster and Wrap The Firetruck Up!
I gave it my all, which turned out to be quite a lot more than I ever imagined I had. I hit the Monster, wrapped up, and drove him back and into the dirt.
The ball squirted out. From two inches distance I noticed that the Monster's eyes were big as onions.
From the sideline I heard Coach Frank howl with glee. "Haaaamburger!"
Gotta love those fundamentals.
You all know the rest of the story. I led our high school team to three consecutive state championships. They had to make two new award categories for me; Ultra All Conference and Ultra All State. I earned a scholarship to Notre Dame (really? blogger can't spell Notre Dame? Way to go google. Don't be evil, oooh, shiny!) and led the Fightin' Arsh to four consecutive National Championships. I won the Heisman Trophy each of those four years. Then on to the the Pittsburgh Steelers, where I won more Superbowls and Major Awards than I can even remember over the next 30 years. Or something like that.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch...
There was a new baby calf on the ground this morning,
and one on short final. There were also a group of curious calves investigating a new and delightful thing called a fence corner.
I tagged the first new calf, made sure the second one had landed safely and was able to taxi to the mobile fuel pits, then inspected the rest of the cows and calves. Everything looked healthy and happy on this pretty spring morning. But my cow-count came up four short.
Well, I had a good idea where the four missing cows and their newish babies were. For some cow-reason, they'd decided to detach and proceed as an independent four-ship. The weather over the last couple of days -- cool and rainy -- probably had something to do with it.
Among those four cows and their babies (guess that makes it an eight-ship) were cow BL310 and her calf, 733.
Calf 733 was born on Monday but had not yet been tagged, vaccinated, or banded. These things needed to be done -- the sooner the better -- but each passing day made it less and less likely that I'd be able to complete the chore out in the pasture. I tried a couple of times on Monday, twice on Tuesday, and three times yesterday. No soap. The little guy had wheels and wasn't afraid to use them! And with each failure I was training him to run away quickly whenever I got close.
I'd pretty much given up and was making tentative plans to bring all (or most) of the cows and calves in to the corral where I'd be able to sort the calf off, capture him, and take care of bidness.
This bringing 'em all in and sorting would be a less than optimal solution. Calving time is a time when you want to expose the cows and calves to as little stress as possible. Even under the best conditions, on a nice day with relaxed people moving the cows and calves into the corrals in a nice, relaxed manner, the cows and calves would be considerably stressed. On the other hand, calf 733 really needed to get his vaccination. The tagging and banding could be delayed indefinitely, but he needed that shot to protect him from pathogens and disease.
This morning the stars lined up nicely. Calf 733 was off with the eight-ship and therefore away from other potentially nervous cows and calves. He was laid up in tall grass, drowsing in the morning sunshine while his tummy digested a big breakfast of rich milk. His mama was 150 yards or so away and seemed to be quite relaxed and unconcerned.
I quietly pulled the pickup up behind the calf and within about five feet. I had the syringe filled and the bander ready but I had to quickly change the tag in the tagger, replacing 737 with 733. Then I carefully opened the door. This was the moment the calf would most likely leap up and flee. I'd long ago pulled the circuit breaker to the door switch so that when I open the door the light doesn't come on and the dinger doesn't ding. But the sound of the door opening is often enough to startle a calf and send it on its way. I was in luck though, because while 733's ears twitched at the sound of the opening door, his eyes didn't open and he remained in drowsy repose.
I carefully swiveled my legs out and gained firm purchase on the ground. No more pussy-footing around, no more Mr. be calm and quiet and relaxed and no sudden moves. I was going to have this one last chance, then no more. This was the moment of truth!
The memory of an August tackle more than 40 years ago flooded into the forefront of my mind. Attack! Wrap up! Head up, eyes focused, I launched myself through the air.
Poor little guy. From out of nowhere an old, fat rancher guy landed on him like 250 pounds of lard.
In reality I was much more careful than I was with the Monster. I wanted to grab the calf, wrap him up with a secure grip, and control him so he couldn't escape. But I didn't want to hurt him. He was laying on his side, completely unprotected, and beginning only his fourth day of life.
So I wrapped him up and got a firm grip. I flipped him upside down and carefully rested my knee on his chest with just enough pressure to hold him in place without causing any trauma. I quickly banded him, flipped him again, ear tagged him, then gave him the all-important shot.
He really fought! Before I was done he kicked my shins black and blue. At only four days of age and 100 pounds soaking wet, he was still all whipcord and dynamite.
Finished with my work, I let him go. He quickly bounded to his feet, shook his head at the new tag in his ear, then trotted over to mama.
I was entirely too pleased with myself. I carefully looked around, saw that no one was watching, then high-fived myself.
Just another day on the ranch. I do the same things day in and day out, month after month, season after season, year after year, decade after decade. Every day it's the same old thing. But every day, without exception, is as bright and shiny and new as a newly born calf.