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Blown Up & Stuffed

Author’s Note: A little over a year after debuting as my blog’s all time most viewed post, this story was published in The Adirondack Almanack’s November 26, 2021 online edition.


“Saranac Lake Redskins”

“This Here Is Monk”

Saranac Lake High School. Varsity practice field – July, 1978: 

     “Hey MONK!  Get over here!”

     I shot my best friend Chris a quizzical look. (Yes THAT Chris- SLHS track star, Outlaw rabbit hunter -made famous in my earlier post: “Olympic Outlaws”).

     “Does Coach Raymond mean ME?!”  Chris shrugged and nodded.

     “Looks that way.  Better hustle over & find out.” 

My first ever football practice. Already I was “Monk”.

     I had never played football.  My father’s sports year had two seasons: Fishing & Hunting.  So, while other kids played football, I was out in the woods, hunting with my dad.

     Enter John Raymond-AKA: “Coach”.  Coach Raymond was a presence. Stocky, square jawed, gruff voice, a stern no nonsense gaze.  I’m pretty sure if I Google “High School Football Coach”- his image still appears.

Coach Raymond
Canaras Yearbook Photo

     Coach Raymond was a gym teacher then.  I think he was born with a clipboard under one arm and a whistle around his neck. He was never without either.

    He collared me on the track circle the previous spring.  I could never make the baseball team, but it turned out I was a half decent miler running track with Chris.

Spring 1978 Saranac Lake Redskins Track Team
Canaras Yearbook Photo

  “Hey MAHNRO-!  Why don’t you play football? Practice starts in a month.  Get your physical.  Be there.  Don’t forget your cup.”

     It wasn’t a request.  I’d  been given a command. Chris encouraged me to follow it.    

     So, there I was, trotting onto the football practice field next to Chris. I took his advice again. I started sprinting over towards Coach.  Coach Raymond blew his whistle and barked;

     “All right men!  Hustle Over here.  Gather round and take a knee.” 

My Saranac Lake Redskins football career had started.

     Coach walked up and pounded my shoulder from behind.

     “Men- This here is “Monk”. 

“He doesn’t know if the ball is blown up or stuffed.”

     That was it.  Official.  From thenceforth, and to this day, as a Saranac Lake Redskin, I was “Monk”.

     Turns out Coach once had a college teammate with the last name Monroe.  That guy’s nickname was ‘Monk”, so Coach gave me that name too.  I considered it a badge of honor.  Wore it proudly.  In some circles I still do.

     Coach and his staff quickly got things going. Chris played tackle.  He took his place on the line.  Coach handed me a big pad and  my first blocking assignment.

     “Here Monk. Hold this.”

     ” When the quarterback says “Hutt”, you go charging in there as hard as you can and try to knock him on his butt with that pad.”

  I nodded.  This was gonna be fun!

     The whistle blew.  Fobare, our quarterback, said “Hutt- Hutt…Hutt!”

     I bolted through the line just like Coach said. I gripped that big red pad in front of me, bracing for impact.

  I had Fobare in my sights…..


  Something akin to a Mack Truck blindsided me from out of nowhere. I flew five feet, landed in a heap.  I heard some snickers.  Saw a few stars too.

     The whistle blew again.  I looked up.  One of our team Captains, Doty, was standing over me.

     Coach Raymond hollered. 

     “Hey Monk- What on God’s Earth are you doing on the ground?  I told you to get the Quarterback!  Now get up off your ass! Quit messin’ around!”

     He blew his whistle.  “Okay Men, line up.  Let’s do it again!”

     Doty scoffed, reached down and pulled me up with a paw.

     “Welcome to Varsity…..Monk.”

      My introduction to the “D” block, Team Captains, and Saranac Lake Redskins Varsity Football, all on my first play from scrimmage.

     We had about 43 guys on that team.  Coach Raymond made sure every man had a job.  We were expected to know it.  No excuses.  No slack.

     Every player had a position on both sides of the ball.  Coach made mine simple.  “End”.

     Turns out Ends do mostly the same stuff no matter which team has the ball.  There were only two differences that I could see.  On offense I could catch passes if Fobare threw me the ball- (which was never).  On defense I could tackle the guy with the ball. I liked defense better. 

     On offense we had lots of plays. Diagramed on mimeograph sheets. Coach handed them out at practice.

We practiced “Jets”, “I” formations, screens, the “Wishbone”. There were Quarterback Options, draws, motion, lead blockers….. and of course-“D” Blocks. We practiced pass plays. (None to me.) But mostly we just ran the ball.

No matter much what offensive play got called, my job never changed. Line up outside the guy next to me. Count the “Hutts”. Then block like Hell whoever crossed the line.  

Coach put every man on special teams. That’s where most non- starters played. I was on Kickoff, Kick Off Return, and Punt return, which all turned out to be pretty much like “End”.  If the ball came my way- catch it (which once again, was never), but mostly I still just blocked.  Besides these assignments, my primary positions were practice squad, and on game days I mostly manned left bench.

     I discovered that I liked football.  By contrast, Chris loved it.  He’d been playing quite a while.  His passion for the game drove him. He helped me understand the plays. I had several other friends on the team who helped me out a bit too.

We used first names with each other some, in the locker room or huddle. On the line, we were all our number. Some guys were code words in the game.

But with Coach Raymond, it was simple. With him each of us- every man, was either our nickname, or our last. No exceptions, never both.

We had different defensive plays; blitzes, shifts, different “reads”- for either pass or run. Linebackers seemed to move the most. The End’s job never changed. Line up on the furthest outside man, hit hard, then crash to the ball.

In defensive huddles, my junior year, usually Kyle called the plays. He would make a bunch of hand motions back and forth with Coach, then say a bunch of stuff. It always ended with “Mike Wide Left”, or “Mike Wide Right”. Then we all clapped in unison and said “Break!”

     This went on for a while in our practice defense huddles. One thing puzzled me…11 men in the huddle….. there was Kyle, calling plays, Jim, Dave, Teddy, Chris, Jonathan, another Dave, Ty, Billy,  sometimes “Bomber”  or “Dupe”, and occasionally me- “Monk”.  But who was “Mike”?  There was no Mike. Yet Kyle called his name, every play.  Finally, I asked Chris.

“Hey Chris- Who’s Mike?”

  It turned out that “Mike” was code for “Free Safety”- so Kyle was “Mike”.  Sometimes Ty was “Mike”. When he was Kyle.  Not me.  I was never Kyle, or Ty, or “Mike”. Chris was always Chris. I was just plain “Monk”.

     Coach Raymond challenged us.  He was hard.  He expected us to win.  He cared about us too.  He taught us dedication, responsibility, focus, grit. How to trust the man lined up next to you. What it meant to be a team.

     We were small physically, compared to other teams.  Especially Tupper- “The Lumber Jacks”.  Any one of their players made two of us. Plus, they all had beards.

       Chris was a little bigger than me- about 165.  He played offensive tackle.  We may have had a couple of players over 200 pounds, but that was about it. “Monk” weighed a whopping 145- sweat drenched, helmet on, full pads.

       No matter, Coach Raymond & his staff showed us how get the most out of each other, and ourselves.  We were big together ON the field.  United with shared spirit and one goal.  We used hard work, dedication, and team work to win games.  Which is what we mostly did!

     The Northern Athletic Conference had ten teams then.  Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Malone, OFA, Canton, Potsdam, Gouverneur, St. Lawrence, Carthage and Massena. Judge Plumadore was our Scouting Coach. He gathered film of all our games and other teams.

    Thursday nights was team night. The whole team got together, ate popcorn and watched game film on black & white projector wheels in Coach Plumadore’s basement. We’ d go over our last week’s game, then study our next opponent.

     On Saturday’s, before home games, we blasted music in the locker room on vintage ’70’s vinyl.  Then we’d walk in single file from the high school to the field.

     The American Flag- The National Anthem. Mr. Baker’s Marching Band.  Cheerleaders and Cheering Fans. The Announcer’s Booth.  Concessions Stands: Fall Saturdays in Saranac Lake.  Hot Chocolate, Hot Dogs, and Redskins Football were the menu.

Fall 1980
Homecoming Pep Rally
(Yes, that’s me, “Monk” 3rd from left.)
I’ll let everyone else remain anonymous.

     Coach Raymond’s son Mark was our team’s water boy. He must have been about seven.  When “Time Out ” got called, without fail, he hustled water to the huddle.  I heard later on he became a Coach himself. I’m not surprised. He probably knew more football then than most guys on the field. I’m sure he knew more than me.

     Carthage joined our league that year.  We travelled there to play. I can still remember when we got off the bus and headed for the locker room.  Those Carthage boys looked just like Tupper!  Beef with beards!  The Carthage players stood and jeered as our team took the field.

    “Hey! What did you guys bring- your JV team!”

Chris and I both heard that remark.  I can still see his smirk.

       We won the toss. They kicked off.

       I liked being on the kickoff teams.  It made me feel like a starter.

     “Cates” caught the ball.  I threw a block.  My man fell down. Cates was fast.  My block was all he needed. Cates flew by me with the ball.

       TOUCHDOWN!  In about 3 seconds flat our “JV” team had scored.  We won that game 22-8. (I checked my yearbook).  We went 7-2 that year.  Tupper & Massena beat us.

Fall 1979
Saranac Lake Redskins
Varsity Football
Canaras yearbook Photos

     I played again my Senior year.  My role at first about the same.  I did play some defensive back.  Then later on Bach or Cates got hurt. I started twice at Defensive End, even made a couple tackles.

Saranac Lake Redskins Varsity Football Team
Fall 1980
Canaras Yearbook photo

   On special teams, I returned two kickoffs!  I didn’t score, or make big plays. I did gain yards, and didn’t  fumble.  So there’s my claim to fame.

     Chris still started.  He played tackle, both sides of the ball.  He was forever trying to convince Coach Raymond to work some “Tackle Eligible” play into our offensive scheme, so he could catch a pass.  That never happened. But we did go 8-1, conquering Carthage again, and Tupper, but still losing to Massena.

Saranac Lake Redskins Varsity Football
1981 Canaras Yearbook
Photo Collage

   Chris won the “Red Letter” award that year. Most dedicated player. They gave it to him at our banquet.  I know it meant a lot to him- He’s still one of my best friends.  Whenever high school sports come up, he never misses the chance to remind me of his status.

     I was satisfied with my varsity football letter and pin.  I still have them in my closet, hanging on my Redskins jacket.  Next to my varsity baseball pin!  I finally made that team too!  My senior year.  I think playing football helped.   

     There are still times, in Saranac Lake, when I hear someone yell, “Hey Monk!”  I turn and smile, knowing it’s one of my Redskins teammates. 

     I may not have known if the ball was blown up or stuffed.  Sometimes I still don’t.  But Coach Raymond taught us all a lot about football, and a whole lot more about life.

“Saranac Lake Redskins Football Practice”

Canaras yearbook Photo

“Coach Raymond at Work”


Until our trails cross again:

Respect The Coach

Count The “Hutts”

Block Like Hell

Trust Your Teammates

Love The Game


AKA: “Monk”