(Today we take a respite from the myriad ills of big-time college football to shine a light on two delightful smaller-time tales, courtesy of Football Championship Subdivision Morgan State and the NAIA’s Faulkner.)
Morgan State is one of 105 historically black colleges in the nation. Mercado chose the school because it was the only one to offer him a full athletic scholarship and because Baltimore has a large Jewish community.
On the field — and in most of his classes — he is the only white face.
“It doesn’t really matter. I’m very accepting of all people,” Mercado told The Jewish Week. “I’ve always been among people of other races.”
Mercado’s unusual circumstances remind me of my first job out of college, when I did sportscasts for black-owned WOL Radio in Washington. I was the only white on-air personality — I use the term “personality” loosely — at the station.
One afternoon I answered the phone in the newsroom, and the caller asked for me.
“Are you a brother?” he inquired.
“Are you a brother?” he repeated, with emphasis.
“Well,” I said, “if your first name is Steve and your last name is Chad, then I’m a brother.”
He explained that he was confused — I sounded white but he thought I must be black, working for WOL. I assured him that I was arguably the whitest guy in town.
What I would tell Mercado — and he seems sharp enough to know it already — is this: Being around people of another background is a good thing. And, frankly, being the only white person among blacks is a lot easier in America than being the only black person among whites.
(For those who dispute this, I’d refer you to the Emancipation Proclamation, Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act, for starters.)
This season, Mercado, a 20-year-old redshirt sophomore, has made 5 of 9 nine field goal attempts. He hopes to make it to the NFL where — I must warn him — he’d again find himself a minority ethnic-wise, race-wise and religion-wise.
Speaking of out-of-place kickers, that brings us to retired construction worker, avocado farmer and grandfather Alan Moore, the oldest player in college football history.
In 1968, Moore was an 18-year-old freshman kicker at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss. But he was shipped off to the Vietnam War, ending his academic and athletic pursuits. Forty-plus years later, he decided he wants to kick again, so he starts practicing on his own — straight-on style with a square-toed shoe — and journeys to Faulkner, making the team as a backup extra-point kicker.
Moore’s unusual circumstances remind me of an evening I spent in the 1980s at the home of my friends Vinnie and Anna Perrone. I was between marriages at the time and they were in the midst of their still-ongoing marital experiment, and with nothing better to do, we stumbled upon this old movie on pre-cable TV called “The World’s Greatest Kicker.” It was about a 55-year-old millionaire whose college days were interrupted by World War II, and he returns to campus to become a game-winning kicker.
(The film is alternately horrific and hilarious. And, sadly, it still ranks as one of the best nights Vinnie, Anna or I has ever had socially as an adult.)
So, magically and improbably, life now imitates art in the guise of Moore. He lives in a dorm, hears teammates call him “Pops” or “Old Man,” and last month, in Faulkner’s season opener, the 61-year-old knocked through the Eagles’ first extra point of the year. Moore hopes to make a game-winning field goal. As with Abraham Mercado’s NFL aspirations, this likely will be an unrealized dream. So be it — four months shy of Social Security, “The World’s Greatest Kicker” still walks among us.
Ask The Slouch
Q. With Texas A&M making its way to the SEC as its 13th team, the ACC expanding to 14 teams (for now), the Pacific-12 not interested in any of the remaining Big 12 members (for now), the Big 12 deciding how it’s going to get back to 10 members before losing anybody else (for now), the Big East figuring out who’s coming and who else is going (for now), are you considering joining a conference of journalists or do you want to remain an independent? (Vince Piperni; Alexandria)
A. To borrow from Groucho Marx, I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member. (P.S. No one is showing any interest, anyway.)
Q. If Peyton Manning is out for the season and the Colts go 0-16, will he win his fifth MVP? (Kevin Cole; Indianapolis)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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