Jude always ordered hot coffee when he was falling apart. He leaned back in his booth and pressed his hands into the porcelain, trying to drink in the heat through cold fingertips. He couldn't taste... [+]
Butch Armstrong was well past the prime of any ordinary man. Especially by the hyper-speed measuring stick of a professional football quarterback. But Butch was no ordinary man.
His pigskin obsession came on November 14th, 1926 at the age of five, when his father, George, took him to watch the Detroit Panthers do battle with the Dayton Triangles to a bitter, scoreless tie.
The lackluster tally made no difference to Butch and he was full of excited questions on the long ride home to the farm.
After an hour of endless inquisition, his father tried to change the subject by asking Butch what he wanted Santa Clause to bring him.
“I want a football daddy!” He shouted over the deafening ‘chug-chug’ from the fairly new farm truck.
George stifled his grin and looked straight ahead. “A football, eh?”
“Yes, sir! Do you think Santa will bring me one?”
George scratched his chin, lifted his eyebrow and pursed his lips in convincing thought.
“Well. If your good, do all your chores, and pray to Jesus every night before bed..., I would think a football fan like Santa would see fit to bring a good boy like you a football.”
“Santa ‘s a football fan daddy?” Butch’s eyes opened wide with magical expression.
“Well of course he is son.” George winked at his boy. “Ain’t everybody?”
On Christmas morning, Butch was elated to see that Santa had indeed brought him his wish, and from that day forward, his only focus in life was the game. He was built for it too. He was strong like his father from natural farm life and developed broad shoulders that sat upon arms engraved with lines of muscular definition rarely seen by kids his age.
Butch far outclassed the competition acquiring shelves of accolades and awards in high-school and a full college scholarship where he shattered records, earning the Heisman Trophy and the All-American quarterback position four straight years.
His performance on the gridiron became constant barbershop talk, and was on the tongue licked lips of every cigar smoking, fat-cat, professional team owner.
World War II was in full swing by the time Butch graduated from college. As was family tradition and to the chagrin of the owners, he enlisted in the Army to fight Nazi’s and do his part in keeping the world safe from the likes of Adolph Hitler.
Soon after, Private Butch Armstrong sat among a thousand of his new brothers-in-arms, hypnotized by the words of Major General William Lee.
“The hundred and first airborne division, which was activated on sixteen August, nineteen forty-two has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny.”
He saw extensive and brutal action as a member of the 101st, from D-Day to Bastogne, returning at wars end, highly decorated, including the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Immediately he was hounded by reporters, and fans alike. Never one to be anything but polite, he scribed a letter to every major paper in America thanking everyone that had inquired about his future.
He included a humble edification of the men he fought alongside in Europe, taking special care with those who had not returned. He concluded by stating that he did, in fact, wish to be considered for a place with a professional team.
Picked first by the Duluth Eskimos he enjoyed a twenty-six year, hall of fame career. Winning seven championships, breaking every passing record and starting every game until one fateful battle in Chicago.
During a routine pass play, a giant of a man broke through the offensive line, tackled Butch and broke his shin in half. The snap could be heard all over the stadium. Everyone inhaled in unison through grimaced teeth and it was felt by all that that was the last of Butch Armstrong.
He did indeed retire, and at the age of fifty, hung his cleats out to dry.
Butch stayed in excellent shape however, and after ten years began to believe that maybe he could still play.
He prosed another letter to the press stating that he wished to return. He said he felt better than he did a decade ago and hoped to get a comeback shot.
Only one team owner, Henry Flaggle Jr, believed in him. He had grown up a rabid fan of Butch and now owned the floundering Detroit Panthers. He called Butch and offered the AARP member a record-setting deal which was signed on network television.
The stadium shook with cheers for their hero on game day, as the referee blew his whistle to signal the start.
Chicago kicked off and everyone sat on the edge of their seat to watch Butch tear up the turf. They lined up and he looked like the gridiron general he always was.
“Down..., Set...”. One, two, one, HUT, HUT!”. The center hiked the ball and Butch took it perfectly and stepped back to find his open receiver.
The snapping of bone could be heard all over the arena and in every living room in America. Butch was blindsided and taken to the ground by Gunther Sledge, a mammoth all pro defense men.
The story for the next month was all about his ill-fated attempt at a sport meant for much younger men. He granted an interview to a morning talk show called ‘America Today’ and spoke, with host Gram Louder, from a hospital bed set up in his home. His head was secured tight by a halo brace and his body cast in plaster from neck to feet.
“Butch, you’ve set two new records. First, being the oldest person to ever attempt such an insane feat. And secondly, ‘McGinty’s World Records Book’, just announced that you now hold the title for the most broken bones ever suffered by a human being without actually dying.”
“That is correct Gram.”, Butch mumbled through teeth wired tight.
“Who then, after all these years made you believe, you could compete at that level?”
Butch was silent for a moment. He just stared at a trophy case filled with metal statues of generic football players, mounted on marble bases and inscribed with his name and whatever feat it represented.
His Heisman was to one side of the middle shelf and a collection of championship rings on the other. In the center, cast in the brightest pool of light was a fifty-five-year-old scuffed football with his Army helmet perched atop and his Medal of Honor draped around it.
Written in faded ink on the steel pot were the words, ‘Rendezvous with Destiny’
His eyes filled with tears as he moved them back to the camera.
“A thousand men Gram. A thousand men made me believe.
Every one of them named Destiny.”