I hope this note finds you well.
In August of 1960 (that would be sixty-two years ago for those who are counting), I walked into Coach Curtis King’s football locker room in the basement of Laura Conner High School in Augusta, Arkansas. I was just starting the 9th grade and had made the conscious decision that it was time for me to toughen up. I was small, but I had a loud mouth that got me into fights; I always ended up on the losing end of those fights.
Coach King was a demanding little man with a booming voice; he expected everyone to give their best effort and, if you didn’t, you (and everyone else) would hear about it.
It was clear from the minute I walked on the football field that I was not a natural-born football talent. I wasn’t big or fast and had no skill that related to football. For most of my career, I was destined to be a bench warmer.
The one area where I did show some promise was in placekicking. I wrote right-handed but it was natural for me to kick with my left foot. For the first couple of years, I was the backup kicker to Guy Brown who was one year ahead of me. He wasn’t accurate but he could kick a long way.
When Guy graduated, I was promoted to be the primary kicker. We weren’t supposed to do well but we ended up winning six games and losing only four. More importantly, we beat McCrory. They were our main rival and the year lived and died on who won that game.
In the third quarter of the McCrory game, we were ahead by three touchdowns, and we were on their twenty-five-yard line. Coach King called me aside. He said, “Sam, would you like to try a field goal?” The twenty-five-yard line was my outer limit, but I nodded and said, “Yes, Sir, I would.” At that point in history, no one in the modern era had ever needed to kick a field goal at Augusta High.
On third down, he called a time out and informed the rest of the team what we were going to do. Stan was our quarterback and the holder for the kick. The exchange from center to holder was perfect, Stan put the ball on the tee, just as he had done a thousand times in practice, and I kicked the ball. For some reason, instead of going end over end as it normally did, the ball sailed with both ends parallel to the ground. The accuracy was perfect. It was right in the middle of the goal posts. When it arrived, the ball hit the cross bar, went up in the air—and came straight back down, six inches short of the goal.
There was an audible sigh from the home crowd, and we all walked off the field. Smiling, Coach King met me at the sideline, “Good try,” he said, “Maybe next time.”
It would be wrong to say that I wasn’t disappointed, but I knew there would be a next time.
Have a good journey,
Dr. Sam Taggart is a retired doctor/writer/marathon runner in practice in Benton for the last 45 years. He recently released Country Doctors of Arkansas, published by the Arkansas Times. His other books, The Public’s Health: A narrative history of health and disease in Arkansas, With a Heavy Heart and We All Hear Voices are available at your local booksellers or online at amazon.com.