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By Dave Whitney
Guest Columnist


Fall is one of my favorite seasons because I love football. The problem with being a Geezer living on a limited income is that I can’t afford the tickets for the big games anymore.

I fell in love with football when I was a young reporter and got to work the sidelines in the famous Florida-Georgia games and the Gator Bowl itself in Jacksonville, Fla. Several years later, on my second trip through Jacksonville, as a pilot I flew film on Saturdays from games in Georgia back to the paper in Jacksonville to get “real color” on the front page by game’s end.

I especially loved the days when I was a sports editor for the Associated Press and had a ringside seat in the press boxes of the Big 10, Big 8 and Missouri Valley conferences. Now, that was living.

I also enjoyed my days of going to Miami Dolphin games when I lived in South Florida – first in the old Orange Bowl and later in the big, new stadium up on the Dade-Broward county line, by whatever name it was being called at the time.

Now I live a stone’s throw from Tampa and just don’t have the $100 or more that you’ll spend attending a Tampa Bay Buccaneer game in Raymond James Stadium in the bay area city.

Of course, there’s always television and I will be the first to agree that you can see the game better on the tube than you can in the stadium. But for some reason the hot dogs at home just don’t taste the same. Being a part of the football crowd is just part of football to me.

So, this year I went looking for a way to enjoy a little football from the field and I was delighted to find it in a school in which my son-in-law is the athletic director. It turned out to be six-man football, something I had not seen in more than 50 years when some of the small high schools where I grew up in rural Ohio played the game.

I can now drive up to the field, take out my folding chair, carry it out to the 30-yard line and sit right down and enjoy a real, live football game. I pick up a $2 hot dog at the concession stand and, even if they don’t charge the traditional $5 admission to the game, make a little donation to the school athletic fund for the opportunity they have given me to enjoy real, live football for a few minutes each week.

Six-man football was developed in 1934 by Chester, Neb., High School coach Stephen Epler as a way for small high schools to field a football team during the Great Depression.

Six-man football has produced some notable players over the years. Jack Pardee, who played in the 1950s at Christoval High School in Texas played and coached in the National Football League. Chicago Bear Ed Sprinkle played six-man football at Tuscola, TX, High School in 1939.

Six-man football has some variations from the regular 11-man game we are most familiar with in this country. Six-man is played on an 80-by-40 yard field as opposed to the 11-man 100-by-53-1/3 yard American football field. It takes 15 yards to make a first down in six-man as opposed the 10 yards required to move the sticks in 11-man football.

In six-man, all six players are eligible pass receivers. On offense, three linemen are required on the line of scrimmage at the start of the play. The person to whom the ball is snapped cannot run the ball past the line of scrimmage. However, if the ball is tossed to another player, that player can run or throw the ball and the person to whom the ball was snapped is still an eligible receiver. All forward passes to the player who snapped the ball – the center - must travel at least one yard in flight.

Scoring is the same as in 11-man football, with the exceptions being on the point after touchdown attempt and the field goal. A point-after kick is worth two points, while a conversion made by running or passing the ball is worth one point; this is the opposite of 11-man football. In addition, a field goal is worth four points instead of three.

Six-man football is a fast moving contact sport. You’ll see a lot of on-side kicks and many of them work. Kick-offs are from the 30-yard line. For kick-offs out-of-bounds, teams have three options: 1) five-yard penalty and re-kick; 2) take the ball 25 yards from previous kick-off spot; or 3) take possession at out-of-bounds spot.

All though a contact sport like 11-man football, six-man players get some added protection from two rules: No Blocking below the waist at anytime, and; no coming back to make a blind block on a defensive player following the snap. Violations of either rule will result in a personal foul and 15-yard penalty that looms very large on the shorter football field on which six-man is played. Multiple violations will result in a player being ejected from the game and banned from the game field.

The average six-man team has a dozen or so players and the game is a fast one resulting in many high scores. The game, depending upon where it is played and in which conference the team is playing, has a mercy rule. When one team gets 30 – 45 in some areas - or more points ahead of the other, the clock is never stopped. The game is played out in fast forward, so to speak.

I had a big time this fall sidelining at some six-man games. My son-in-law’s team made it to the quarterfinals in the state championship playoffs.

Many states, like Florida, have state six-man football associations that have web pages and can provide you with teams and schedules in your area. Also there are several Christian school six-man leagues so don’t overlook your local faith-based educational units when searching for a lively, little football game to enjoy.

For me, six-man football has been an interesting revival of live football. It appears to be a growing adaptation of one of America’s favorite sports.

Life is good. Even with cancer.

Copyright © 2010 —Dave Whitney

Dave Whitney is a retired journalist and adventurer who has won many writing awards. He was born and raised in central Ohio, attended school in Missouri, served in the US Army Security Agency, and migrated to Florida a half century ago. Author of four books, he is a former Associated Press writer/editor and has been nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize during his writing career. As editor and founder of the Free Press newspapers in the Florida Keys he was the first publisher to pick up Frank Kaiser's "Suddenly Senior" column when it entered syndication. Whitney currently resides in Lakeland, Fla., after living 25 years in the Florida Keys. Write him at davewhitney@suddenlysenior.com

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