Full Circle: Too Many Cities
A story of pigskins and dreams

As soon as the Jack & Jill man ran out of Creamsicles, we knew it was time. Time to chalk the street. Time to pump the ball. Time to be a football hero.

On good days, as soon as school let out, as soon as we changed from our corduroys to our dungarees, we hit the asphalt. Two against two. Three against three. Us against the world.

In the late afternoon, when the men were at work, there were very few cars hugging the curb. The cars were my teammates. They would set picks for me, they would block for me. We would call that in the huddle. “Go down to the back of the blue Chevy and cut to the curb.”

The old gray Plymouth was my favorite. A ’49 cruiser big enough to house a family. That Plymouth was my best blocker. A zig in, a zag out and I was gone. Telly pole to telly pole, into the end zone.

We played long and we played late, the two dim streetlights and a faint dream kept us going. The dream to be somebody special. To be a football hero. To be Eddie Silverberg.

You could see Eddie Silverberg’s house from my front yard, right over there on Robbins Avenue. Eddie Silverberg believed he could fly.

In the heat of the summer, as the long line of sweaty sedans rolled down Robbins Ave. to the Shore, Eddie Silverberg ran right next to them, a football tucked tightly to his chest.

Eddie Silverberg was the best football player in the history of our street, in the history of our neighborhood, in the history of Lincoln High. He was six years older than me, which was an eternity on the streets of Mayfair. He had hair that looked like Frankie Avalon’s, a girlfriend who looked like Veronica Lake and a car that looked like James Dean’s – everything a kid could want. Not necessarily in that order.

While the rest of us wore the nylon whalers we bought on Frankford Avenue, Eddie Silverberg wore one of those big black wool jackets with a giant chenille “L” on it, a letterman jacket, the ultimate sign of success.

Eddie Silverberg had led Lincoln to an undefeated season and into the City Championship game with LaSalle, where he ran for 193 yards on 21 carries, including an 85-yard touchdown. Plus another TD, plus two conversion runs. Lincoln won 28-20, and Eddie Silverberg was the MVP.

From there, the sky was the limit. Penn State was knocking on his screen door the next day. They gave him a scholarship. He was going to be a star.

His first game as a Nittany Lion was one we all waited for. And on a brisk Saturday afternoon in October, we all gathered around the radio. Every kid in the neighborhood was there.

And we listened. And listened and listened. No Eddie Silverberg. Maybe they were saving him until the second half. So we listened and listened some more. Nothing.

After the final whistle, I walked over to Robbins Avenue, slowly and sadly. Eddie Silverberg’s next-door neighbor was outside mowing his lawn.

“How come Eddie didn’t play?” I asked him. “Was he hurt?”

“Oh, didn’t you hear?” he said. “Eddie didn’t make the team. He got cut.”

Cut? But he was the best football player I ever knew. Cut? I ran back to my house feeling like someone in the family had died.

I broke the news to my father, who just shook his head. “Happens all the time,” he said. “You see, every kid who tries out for the Penn State team is the best player in his city. There are just too many cities.”

He saw the sad look on my face. “You didn’t think you were going to be the next Eddie Silverberg, did you?”

“No,” I said, “of course not.” Then I walked into the house, went up to my room and cried.

October 2014
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