a man who might make football worth watching

I wrote a few weeks ago about football, how I doubt now whether the violence is worth it, whether I should teach my children to love it as much as I do.

A few weeks ago, thinking about all this, I thought of Paul Camera. He was the offensive coordinator for my high school team. He was a successful lawyer, showing up at practice in his suit and shiny leather shoes, voice booming, ready to leap into his game plan.

I did not play offense – only defense – so I did not spend much time with Coach Camera. But he was a big reason our teams were so good – 10 wins, one loss, my senior year, ranked sixth in California in our section. He brought an aura of smarts, of winning, of Bill Walsh-like expectations of success. I never thought of this at the time, but he evoked my grandfather to me – an immigrant kid or the son of immigrants who made it big and was both comfortable with making it big and with the old life. I don’t know if Camera was any of that, but that was the vibe.

Before one night game, he came over to me and clapped me on the back, thrilled.

“So you’re going to Yale! Football at Yale! A Yalie!”

I was not, in fact, going to Yale. I had applied. And I was getting lightly recruited by the football program. And I did not end up choosing Yale. But that was beside the point. Here was our offensive coordinator thrilled that I was even looking at the Ivy League.

It’s not like I needed the validation to know I was smart or could go to a fancy school back east. But there was some transcendence about this football coach – with his fancy suit and shiny shoes who reminded me of my grandfather and who was part of a culture where I could almost nap during downtime at practice because they trusted us to know our parts, to work our asses off, to have figured out what it took to win.

I am about the last guy to love my coaches. I was not that kid. Just tell me to run hard and tell me what plays to run.

But this guy made an impact, and I didn’t even play offense.  I can’t tell you what it was either.

Paul Camera died last month, at the age of 75, and, predictably, now I am sorry I never told him any of this, that I never told him that he may be a big reason that I do, in fact, teach my kids to love football. Or that he will be a big reason that I don’t teach my kids to love football, not wanting to tarnish those moments and those impressions, that sense of security, from 1990.

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One thought on “a man who might make football worth watching

  1. Hi Nathan,

    I am Paul’s daughter Nina. I went to Marin Catholic and graduated in 1993, I also took stats for the team when you played, much in part because my dad taught me to love football too.

    I just want to thank you for what you have written here about my dad. I love what you said about him channeling your grandfather — comfortable with his success, yet maintaining that air of “old school”. That was totally PC, and I never heard it articulated in that way.

    We had a memorial service for him last Saturday. It was very nice, a lot of former players were there telling similar stories to yours. While he seemed to have overwhelmed a lot of the guys at first, they learned to respect him and even love him. His goal was never to be everyone’s best friend, rather, he simply wanted to push the players to be the best through preparation, focus and heart. And even though he could be tough on the field, he enjoyed nothing more than the success of his players off the field, as demonstrated by the anecdote you shared here.

    Thanks again. I appreciated this and will share it with the rest of my family.

    Nina

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