Ode to an Urban Legend

By Neal Wooten

I punch the keys with two fingers, pause, and look at the screen. At 50 years old, I’m lucky to know how to use a computer at all. Most of the gadgets of this generation are things I don’t understand; don’t want to understand: Ipods, Iphones, Ipads, etc. If it has an “I” in front of it, it means “I” don’t need it.

But computers were inevitable, even for an old fogey like me. Of course I only use it to read the news and social media. As I peruse the main page of Facebook to see what people are talking about, I read a funny joke posted from a friend. I leave him a comment: “Good one. lol.”

OK, I realize it’s not Pulitzer material, but it lets him know I appreciate his efforts. And with me, it’s not just computer lingo; I actually do laugh out loud. 

Then it happens―again. Is no place sacred? I stare at the comment that follows and shake my head. It’s a guy from my hometown, many years younger and someone I don’t know. He writes, “Hey, dude, I heard you once threw a football from the far goal post and hit the roof of the girls’ gym.”

I cringe. I played football at a little school in a little town of the same name, which means “wooded area.” It was aptly named. But that was over three decades ago and I was at best a marginal player with a decent arm. But to hear the stories, you would have thought that every pro team in the country was waiting to sign me as soon as I graduated, but that wasn’t the case. My career started and ended right there in the woods.  

I want to write and explain that the distance he’s talking about is roughly 270 yards and physically impossible for a mere mortal. I think Zeus and Apollo would even scoff at that one. But I don’t write that. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, no matter how crazy the questions. I try to think how best to respond. You would think that after dealing with this for a lifetime, I would have figured it out by now, but I haven’t.

I decide to use truth. I write, “I heard it was the Ag building.” 

Of course the top of the agriculture building is still 200 yards from the far goal post. Yet over the years I have heard many different people tell that very story. It seems like everyone was there the day I did that―everyone except me.

Another comment follows. “That’s still a long way. Is it true?” 

I thought my answer explained that it wasn’t true, so I try again. “Anything you hear about me is an urban legend.”

There; that will put the matter to rest. It doesn’t.

“Just tell me if it’s true.”

The urban legends about my high school football career have evolved, as have the reasons for discussing them. It began with people who saw me play and those stories were told in earnest admiration.  The years passed and the stories became more exaggerated as people seemed to enjoy telling them and people seemed to enjoy hearing them. Yet as the stories now reach a generation of people who never saw me play, and maybe never would have heard of me except for these stories, the purpose for inquiring has gone from admiration to accusation.       

I write back, “No, it is not true.”

I stare at the screen for some time but there is no response. I assume he is satisfied. I wonder if he feels lied to or betrayed. I wish I could explain to him that I did not invent the story. I wish I could explain to him that I did not ever tell the story. I wish I could explain to him that, like him, I am a victim of the story.

I wish I could tell him that but it wouldn’t be true. I am not a victim. For years I stood quiet as people told these tales without so much as correcting even the most outrageous scenarios. Part of me thought it was rude to offer argument to someone telling a story in my honor; part of me liked hearing the stories, and, maybe, part of me wanted to believe them. 

The only thing I know for certain is that I never made money from my throwing arm, and often I curse the day I first picked up a football.  


Neal Wooten grew up on a pig farm on Sand Mountain in the northeast corner of Alabama before being dragged kicking and screaming to the snow-infested plains of the American Midwest. He is a book editor, columnist for The Mountain Valley News and The Indie Times, cartoonist, artist, standup comedian, and the author Reternity and The Return of the Nephilim. The Balance will be released by Bold Strokes Books in the spring of 2014. He resides in Milwaukee with his wife and three dogs. He can be found on the web at nealwooten.com.

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