A new meaning for “Senior Night”

May. 31, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Football is in the air. Yes, it is only May and, yes, all of the college teams have wrapped up their spring practices. But trust me; it’s time for some football, old school style. Local gridiron heroes from yesteryear will put on the pads once again as alumni from East Rutherford take the field against their ‘seasoned’ counterparts from R-S Central tonight. It just may give new meaning to the term “Senior Night.”

Vince Lombardi summed up our fascination with the sport like this: “Football is like life - it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” The only tangible difference between football and life is that football is just a game, and games are fun. That’s the real reason that we play them after all, the learning stuff is completely accidental. 

It is also the reason that men find it hard to walk away from the game. There is something about the smell of fresh cut grass that stirs a long dormant passion within those that have laced up shoulder pads and strapped on a helmet. Others may look forward to fall because of the changing leaves or the cooling temperatures but for certain men (and a growing number of wonderful ladies) it’s all about the game. For those, it is more than a game, it’s a bond.

Darius ‘Rocky’ Williams has been a Cavalier since he was old enough to get out of his stroller.

“I started when I was 6 years old here at the Forest City Youth Football League. Larry Ross, who is over the basketball league, was my first coach in mighty mites,” Williams said.  

Williams graduated from East Rutherford in 2006 and went on to play at Gardner-Webb shortly before life pulled him in another direction. Now in his mid-20’s, Rocky is on staff at the Marion Correctional Facility but he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

He currently serves as the president of the Forest City Football and Cheerleading leagues and his passion for the game and the impact it has made on his life is evident.

“I do it for the kids. When I played in the youth league my mom couldn’t afford for me to play. She never had to pay,” he says humbly. “They always put me in on scholarship and this is my way of giving back.”

Asked why he was participating in the Alumni game his answer was simple and emphatic: “I miss it. I love it,” he said. “It’s also a charitable event.”

The money sold by the East High Alumni will be going to the Big Red Boster Club, Forest City Youth Football as well as the East Rutherford Basketball program. 

“Brad Levine is going to be our coach … He was my running back coach back in the day and he’s a little crazy. You feel like you’re still 16 … until the next day,” Williams said with a laugh.

“The mixing of the generations is the neatest thing. Some of the guys that I watched and idolized growing up I am actually playing with now,” Williams added. “It’s amazing to get to see these guys and do it at least one more time.”  

Nicknames are important in the game of football. Just mention the Blond Bomber, Prime Time, or the Bus around a football fan and they will know exactly who you are referring to. First names are not necessary. Nicknames are like mouthpieces in organized sports and everybody seems to get one.

The Cavaliers have Wildman, or Big No. 77. More than likely he has a real name, but no one seems to use it. This imposing mountain of a man stands 6-foot-2 and admits to 300 pounds, but one look at him standing with his eight year old son and you know his bark is worse than his bite.

“How many kids can say they seen daddy play ball unless there daddy is in the NFL,” Wildman said with a grin. 

They share more than just a love of the game, they share a number.

“My son picked No. 77 for his youth football team because that’s what I wore when I played at East,” Wildman said, “When I played in the first (alumni) game he asked me if I was going to wear his number.”

“Is it your number now,” Wildman asked his son. The boy just smiled and replied matter of factly: “Yes.”

That’s the way it is with football, it’s passed down from one generation to the next. The love, the excitement, the memories and even the jersey numbers.