My high school days were taken up with sports and socializing. The grades weren’t great, but good enough. I’m ashamed that I studied only enough to get by and keep my parents at bay. In college I knew I’d buckle down and hit the books hard.
My long-range plan was to enter the seminary and become a priest. But I had some success playing football and hoped I might continue playing at a small college. The seminary, if it was still in the cards, could come later.
I started my senior year as the captain and quarterback. If I had a good year maybe coach Al Bauer would recommend me to a lower division coach so I could continue playing. I worked out all summer in preparation for leading the team.
We won our first game easily. I threw a few passes, but our victory came mostly on the ground with me handing off to our backs and our defense playing well. It was a team win, but my contribution wasn’t a factor.
I only played offense. Although I played defense the previous two years, coach Bauer didn’t want me playing defense because he didn’t want his star hurt.
Our second game was a real butt-whipping, with us on the receiving end. I had a few interceptions, mostly my own fault. I didn’t have much protection and I tried to force the passes. It was awful. I stunk.
Monday, after a dismal film session, we put on our pads and hit the practice field. Coach Bauer had the second string guy at QB. I wondered what was going on. He never said anything to me. I didn’t take a snap during the scrimmage.
I continued to lead the team in calisthenics and participate in the drills. I never ran an offensive play all week. Because I didn’t play defense, I stood around, full of self-doubt and confusion. Mr. Bauer never spoke to me. In spite of my outward aura of confidence, I was an insecure 17-year old wondering what was going on.
Our third game was on a Saturday night about 35 miles away. I woke up sick with the flu. Not only that, it was raining. That afternoon I hauled myself to the locker room and went into Bauer’s office.
“I’m the captain of this team,” I said. “I played defense the last two years. If you’re going to have (the other guy) playing quarterback, let me play defense. I know all the assignments.” Bauer said he’d play me some, but I wasn’t starting.
During that rain-soaked 6-0 victory I played linebacker and defensive back. As the quarterback and leader I was rather cerebral and unemotional. With that responsibility lifted, I played with vengeful abandon, forgetting the flu, and causing two fumbles and recovering another (mostly due to the rain).
I vowed to show that idiot Bauer that he had made a mistake in benching me and never saying a word. I started the rest of the year on defense and earned some conference recognition.
The life lesson I learned was that I could go on in spite of apparent failure. I could have let doubt and self pity destroy me, but I used the setback to make me stronger, not as a football player, but as a person. I never received a sniff from any college but I didn’t care.
Bauer may have been right to bench me, even if it was only due to one bad game, but he should have told me something, anything, and not let me hang there standing puzzled and isolated on the sidelines that week of practice.
I’ve had several other failures, but dealing with the benching set the stage how I would deal with future setbacks. Because my reaction to the demotion was life changing, maybe getting benched was something positive.
Basinski is a former Chula Vista police officer.