by Bob Sparrow
“The pang of it will always be in the heart”
Nathanial Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
My travels last week were supposed to take me to Salt Lake City for, what I must say with all false modesty aside, an induction into the University of Utah Athletes Hall of Fame. OK, it wasn’t exactly me being inducted, it was the entire 1964 Liberty Bowl football team, of which I was a member. OK, I wasn’t actually a regular member – I was a ‘red shirt’ member.
For those unfamiliar with the term ‘red shirt’, it is a college athlete, who is on the team, but does not suit up and play in games for the entire year in order to save his or her eligibility. As a ‘red shirt’ quarterback, I ran the offense of our opponents that week, against our first team defense. I felt it was my job to give our defense confidence with my inept play – I apparently succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. “That was a feckless performance Sparrow”, the coaches would shout and I would beam with pride until I learned the definition of the word feckless. The origin of the term ‘redshirt’ is sketchy at best, but my experience tells me that these non-playing athletes were so bloodied from getting beaten to a pulp in practice that their jerseys were red.
My red shirt never came off; I came to Utah from junior college and transferred after my redshirt year to play for George Siefert, who had taken his first head coaching job at Westminster College in Salt Lake; yes the same George Siefert who coached the San Francisco 49ers to two Super Bowl championships. The same George Siefert, who at a reunion was quoted as saying, “Yes, I coached Joe Montana and Steve Young, but Bob Sparrow was my first quarterback.” I approached him afterwards to thank him for the recognition and he said, “No, I didn’t say first quarterback I said worst quarterback.” Oh.
The Utah Liberty Bowl team was honored at half time of this year’s Utah-Fresno State game and at a banquet held the previous night – I imagined my ‘redshirt invitation’ to these events would look something like this . . .
The 1964 Liberty Bowl football team (and you) will be inducted into the University of Utah Athletes Hall of Fame. There will be a banquet Friday night at 8:00 p.m., could you please get there an hour early so you’ll have time to eat before hand and then serve and clear dishes for the regular team? We have sent commemorative blazers and rings to all the regular players, and have enclosed for you to wear that evening, a double extra large commemorative red shirt. As a special favor, we’re asking that you please plan on sticking around afterwards to help clean up.
The team will be honored at half time of the game on Saturday; would you mind getting to the stadium a little early to wipe down the seats after you finish lining the field? Don’t forget to wear your redshirt to all events, as we don’t want anyone to confuse you with any of the regular team members.
Maybe I was letting my imagination run a bit wild , but I was just trying to get something off my chest . . . and back – it’s that damn red shirt! Truth be known, I actually got a nice invitation and would have loved to attend, but had other commitments. I actually had a good experience at Utah and a great experience at Westminster College, where I played football, wrote for the college newspaper and met my first wife . . . OK, two out of three’s not bad; I think she was just a red shirt anyway.
(If you enjoy our blog, please ‘Share’ it with your Facebook friends)