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  November 11, 2000



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Heavenly experience

Hitman fondly recalls junior football career



By BRET "The Hitman" HART -- For The Calgary Sun

 A few weeks ago, I went back to my 25-year high school reunion where I met up with my old friend and fellow Ernest Manning Griffin, Wayne Black.

 He wondered why I had yet to write a column about "our old junior football days," so here you are, Wayne -- this one's for you and the rest of the team that I was so honoured to be a part of.

 My dad never watched me wrestle, but he caught all my football games.

 I fondly remember Stu waking me up for breakfast, then driving me to my early morning football practice, the orange glow of the sun just beginning to rise up and Loves Me Like A Rock playing on the radio.

 I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work trying to make the team but I was determined to fulfill my lifelong dream of playing football -- for real -- in a full suit of armour.

 We dragged ourselves through those morning practices and then again after school, the temperature rising up past 30 C.

 We had a great coach, Dan Sweetland, who instilled in me many of the values that I've carried with me all these years later. His love for football was contagious.

 A few weeks later, as the green grass was turning orange, we started to get in shape and became a team. There's no greater feeling than playing football in the autumn ... except maybe what it felt like at the pep rally in the cafeteria when I heard my name announced: "Bret Hart, defensive tackle, No. 61 ..." and all the cheerleaders were bouncing around. (The wrestling team never had those ... )

 Here's an actual excerpt from my high school diary.

 'On Monday, I was nervous and had invited a lot of people to come and watch. I kept saying no sweat, we'll win. Dean Wilkinson, Wayne Black and I were the first ones on the bus. It was raining cats and dogs and -- to us -- in our uniforms, we seemed much bigger than the St. Mary's Saints.

 The game was on! We held them, they held us, we recovered a fumble that I poked loose, but at half time it was 0-0. I could see my dad standing in the rain, watching.

 In the third quarter, I made some good tackles, especially on a second-and-goal. My counterpart, Dean Norman, and I refused them at the line and the St. Mary's team came up empty-handed. Still no score. With one play left in the game, St. Mary's went for a field goal and missed -- and James Monro, as hard as he tried, couldn't run out of the end zone and they beat us 1-0.

 (Yeah James, I forgive ya ... but I can't speak for the rest of the team.)

 Well, we lost all six games. Our quarterback, Lochie Brown, could throw the most perfect spirals -- unfortunately they were always to the other team. But he was still better than anyone else we had to throw the ball.

 We lost by just a couple of points every game. St. Mary's trounced everybody else and went on to win the provincial championship that year.

 In our last game, one of their guys said to me, 'You're the toughest team we've played all year ... and you've never won one game!'

 But we sure had a lot of fun trying.

 Hagerman, Bowerman, Krebs, Sorenberger, Fong, Holt, Vermette, Crowe, Dekelver ... does that sound like the dirty dozen or what?

 I've done a lot of things in my life, but you might be surprised to know the single most pleasurable experience that I ever had in my lifetime was junior football at Ernest Manning.

 I salute all the young players and coaches throughout the country, as yet another season comes to an end, for carrying on the tradition of Canadian football.

 I hope your memories are as good as mine.

 When the season was over, I wrote in my diary: 'we were on the bus laughing and joking and we sang and cheered for football was indeed a heavenly experience.'

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