2013.04.24 Crossing the football bridge

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

It's odd that I awoke this morning with the old football bridge on my mind. Let me think for a minute about who would know what I'm talking about. I think the cutoff date might be around 1964, and let's say you had to be five years old at the time to have developed any memories of it. Therefore, if you're 56 years or older and grew up in Morenci, you might remember the football bridge over Bean Creek.

I can clearly hear the sound of that bridge in my head, the clanking of the boards when someone crossed over the river.

If you were on the football team, you would go down into the smelly locker room at Stair Gymnasium, get your gear on, then run west on Congress Street toward Wakefield Park. This had a unique sound of its own. Metal-tipped cleats from football shoes created a sharp sound on the pavement.

The school was on Summit Street, the high point, and it was a downhill run toward the crick, as it was called. It's not a big hill, but there was enough of a decline to allow some slipping around. Cleats aren't made for pavement and there was also the occasional sound of someone "skating" down the street. This is the street where David Carlson broke his leg while skateboarding. David was a golfer, not a football player.

After a couple of blocks, Congress Street ended and curved south to become Mill Street. Football players kept going straight, behind the mill, pausing only to grab a few grains of wheat to chew like gum. Then they reached the crick and the bridge.

The bridge looked a little like something you might see in a National Geographic photograph where peasants are crossing a chasm on a simple structure made of rope and planks of wood. In this case, there were two metal cables stretched across the creek to support wooden planks. Two additional cables were higher up for a hand hold. Maybe there were two more up higher yet. I would love to see a photo of the old bridge.

When was it built? John Geisler said he first crossed it in 1949. My father has no recollection of it when he was in school, but the football team didn’t play at Wakefield Park when he graduated in 1941.

I suppose I used the football bridge for football practice, but maybe not. I don't know when it went out of service. I think we were ordered not to use it long before it actually disappeared. That meant we had to run an extra three blocks south to Main Street and then back north to the football field. Only a few bad boys took the bridge in defiance of the orders.

Because of the extra distance, I wore a pair of cheap tennis shoes from Meyer's Department Store and carried my cleats. I had an attractive pair with gold corduroy glued to the tongues (leftovers from a skirt, I believe, that my mother sewed for my sister) and shoelaces dyed chartreuse (left over from dying my long underwear). One day I returned to the hill where we left our shoes and they were gone. I'm certain someone tossed them in the crick.

My football bridge experiences are from the days before high school. We always tried to cross when none of the big boys were around. If a little kid crossed, the older boys would have a great time jumping up and down on the bridge and making it sway back and forth. It was frightening enough without the older kids. There were often a few planks missing. I liked to cross without looking down at the water flowing below. When the creek flooded it was worse yet. The brown water sometimes rose as high as the middle planks. Slipping off the bridge would surely lead to drowning. 

I don't recall hearing of anyone falling off that bridge, but it must have happened. With the proper resolve, the best thing was to run as fast as possible across, the planks clanking away and the cables making sine waves across the crick.

People complain about the shortcomings of the town—roads need fixing, jobs need to be created, houses need repair, etc.—but I think what this city needs is a good football bridge. Well, not too good. Just some cables tied to trees with a row of loose planks.

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