The Time Stu Turned Me Into a Football Star (for 1 Day)

In honor of the Super Bowl, here’s my story about the time Stu turned me into a football star . . . for one day.

To read more about our adventures, buy the book here or here


Dear Reader

There are two things you need to know about my childhood friend Stu Sanderson. The first is that he was tall. Really, really tall. By eighth grade he was close to seven feet tall.

The second? His goal in life was to be legendary.


Patrick “Bird Bones” Hueller



How I Became a Football Star (Briefly, But Still)

As always during recess, I was sitting at the edge of the playground. As always, Stu was nowhere to be found. As always, Clara was on the tire swing, her feet planted firmly on the ground.

Once again, a football fell out of the sky. This time it landed to my left and bounced toward the giant yellow slide.

It never got there, though, because a foot stopped it.

A giant foot.

Stu’s foot.

I’d been looking for him for at least ten minutes, and hadn’t seen him. How did he just appear like that? Where had he come from? To this day I can’t explain it.

“A little help?” It was Chad Logan’s voice. He had apparently decided not to come all the way to the playground this time, and I didn’t blame him. Last time he made the trip, his return was painful, slippery, and embarrassing.

Stu bent his long body and picked up the ball. “Play you for it, dude,” he said.



“If you win, you can have your football. If we win, we get to keep the football.”

“Who’s we?” Chad Logan asked.

Yeah—who was we?

“Me and Bird Bones,” Stu said.

“That’s it?” Chad said. “Just you and Bird Bones?”

It sounded like that’s exactly what he meant. “Wait,” I said. “Stu. I don’t—”

“I’m in.”

I turned. It was Clara. She stood up and set her book on the now-wobbling tire. I think this was her way of marking her territory. Just because I’m not here, she seemed to be saying, doesn’t mean anyone’s allowed to take my spot.

“You, Bird Bones and Clarasil,” Chad said. “That makes three.”

“I want to play, too!”

I turned some more. It was Justin Richards. Stumpy, mind-wandering, almost-as-short-as-I-was Justin Richards.

“You, Bird Bones, Clarasil and Just Rich.” Chad smirked. “Anyone else?”


We all turned and found some little kid stepping away from a slid and heading in our direction. He couldn’t have been more than a fourth grader.

“Me, too!”

“Me, too!”

“Can I play?”

“How about me? Can I play, too?”

Shouts came from all over the playground. Within a few seconds, a whole line of elementary school kids stood next to me.

I looked at Stu. He still held the football in one hand. The other hand rubbed his chin.

“All of us,” he said, “versus all of you.”

The whole thing was pretty inspirational. I’d been hoping to play football at recess for years, and now I was going to get my chance.

I should have been excited, but when I looked at our competition I realized I’d never really thought the situation through. Our opponents seemed suddenly huge.

They were just guys from my class—I knew that. But, compared to most of us, they might as well have been NFL linemen.

“Let’s get this over with, Chad,” one of them hollered.

“We’ll pummel them and then we’ll take our ball back,” said another.

Chad considered it. Then he smiled. “We’ll do it if you promise not to cry to a teacher when we’re done.”

I, for one, couldn’t promise anything of the sort. What did they mean by pummel us? That didn’t sound like touch football. And we weren’t playing on snow here. We weren’t even playing on grass. This was ice. Slick, thick ice. Getting pummeled would hurt badly enough on a regular surface. But on this stuff? No way, I thought. The only reason I’m not going to cry is because I’m not going to play.

“You’re on,” Stu said.

That’s when all the other puny elementary kids let out a battle bellow. Well, it was more like a battle squeal. But still, their courage was impressive. I’ve never been one to be ashamed of cowardice—not if it’s justified. Stupid courage is just that—stupid. But then again, even I had standards. I didn’t need to be as brave as your average middle schooler, but I did need to be as brave as your average fourth grader. Besides, how dangerous could this really be? Stu was the one who came up with the challenge, so it was fair to assume he’d be the one with the ball most of the time. He was plenty skinny, so there was a chance he’d be snapped in two. But he was also almost seven feet tall, so you couldn’t really say he was at a size disadvantage.

Maybe the eighth graders wouldn’t be able to catch up to Stu’s long-legged strides, I thought.

Even if they did catch up to him, well, he brought this on himself. If he wanted the football so badly, he could have it.

“Okay, team,” Stu said after our team huddled up. “When in doubt, get the ball to Bird Bones.”

“What are you talking about?” I said.

“Relax, dude—you’ll do great.”

“Why don’t you take the ball?”

“On this ice? No way, dude.”

“You’re the one who got us all into this!” I protested.

“My legs are too long, Bird Bones. I won’t be able to stop or change directions without falling. But your puny legs are perfect for this terrain. Your steps are so itty bitty you probably won’t even notice you’re on ice.”

I think he meant that as a compliment.

In any case, he wasn’t kidding. Stu tossed me the ball on the first play and, well, to this day I can’t explain it.

Except to say Stu was right.

I ran around five or six guys before anyone touched me. The same thing happened on the next play. You know that scene in one of the Star Wars movies when the Empire’s big hulking four-legged metal contraptions are tripped up by the Alliance’s little fighter jets?  That’s exactly what this felt like. I was a fighter jet as the other team stumbled and fell like they were made of rusted metal. I’d been so worried I’d get splatted on the ice, but they were the ones going SPLAT!

“Everyone,” Chad finally ordered, “get Bird Bones! He’s their only player!”

That’s when Stu faked the handoff to me and threw the ball instead. Clara Berns was wide open. After she caught the ball, she could have walked the rest of the way past the cone that marked the end zone. But she didn’t. Clara kept running until she crossed the goal line. Just as I’d suspected, she was really, really fast.

I’d like to tell you this was a true Cinderella story. But that would be dishonest. There was no great upset. David didn’t beat Goliath.

We lost. By more than one touchdown.

The eighth grade guys got to keep their ball and their field.

But we didn’t get pummeled. At least not literally.

All of us walked away relatively unharmed. We even scored a few more touchdowns. When one of the little kids scored, he spiked the ball and did an end zone dance that lasted several minutes. When Just Rich wandered with the ball into the end zone, he just kept on wandering twenty, thirty, forty more yards. I don’t think he would have stopped wandering if we hadn’t chased him down and brought him back to the field.

No, we didn’t win, but it felt almost like we did.

Clara even high-fived me.

“I didn’t know anyone could run on ice like that, Patrick,” she said.

Then she walked back to the playground to get her book.

I didn’t know you knew my name, I thought.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *