The Cool Factor, Part 1

Here is a story about a day on which my world changed.

When I entered seventh grade, my first year of Junior High School, nobody warned me that things were going to be different. Either that, or somebody tried and I didn’t listen because I was too busy playing with my G.I. Joes or watching the Six Million Dollar Man.

I was going to play football. Not only was I going to play football. I was going to be the starting quarterback for the seventh grade team – number 12, like Roger Staubach – and, whether we won or lost, I was going to have lots of fun doing this with my friends, just like we had when we played tag football in my front yard the year before.

Boy, was I wrong.

First, my coaches didn’t have the insight to recognize my natural ability at the position of quarterback. Apparently, athletic ability counted a lot more than my overwhelming intelligence at that position. So I got put at linebacker. Second, they didn’t even understand that I was supposed to be a starter. So, when the Thursday of our first game rolled around, I ended up spending most of the game standing on the sidelines watching the people that had played tag football with me for the last few years have all the fun.

The game was pretty uninteresting, too. For 22 minutes, nobody scored. And 22 minutes was most of the game, since we only played six-minute quarters.

At literally the last minute, a new kid in school named Cory (actually, his name wasn’t Cory – I’m changing the names to protect the innocent here), who had been placed at the position of starting running back, broke through the line and scored something like a forty yard touchdown.

It was kind-of exciting, I thought. I wasn’t on the field at the time, but I had been involved in at least 3-4 plays, so I made my contribution. And WE had won, so surely WE would celebrate that victory the next day.

I’ll never forget lunch period on the following day. The first thing I noticed was that girls – I mean LOTS of girls – had surrounded Cory like he was Joe Namath or somebody. He was just sitting there at a picnic table, his legs stretched out in front of him, and his arms spread along the edge of the table. He acted like he owned the school.

My tag football friends had also formed a circle, talking about their experiences during the game, and – if we were lucky – a few of the rest of us non-starters were allowed to stand at the edge of those conversations, if we would just remember to be quiet and respectful while we listened to the tales of their gridiron exploits. The rabble that was comprised of the non-players, on the other hand, were not even allowed to listen.

All of a sudden, I realized the world had become a much different place. I didn’t have a word for it yet, but I would soon learn that “cool” was not just a word that people used to describe Fonzie. It was a concept, elusive though it might be to define, that would come into play in virtually all of the peer relationships that I would have for the next six years, and beyond…

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