Rubbing elbows

Picked off — by Cy Young winner

By Dave Potchak

In the fall of 1969, the Forest Hills Rangers played their fourth game of the high school football season against the Conemaugh Valley Blue Jays at the Point Stadium in Johnstown.

The game was played in a soggy quagmire, as a result of a cold, relentless and torrential rain that lasted all day and all night.

Coach Chuck Sponsky of Forest Hills had instructed his quarterbacks to immediately “cover the flat,” anytime a pass was thrown out there — just in case it was intercepted. His hopes were that the quarterback might make a touchdown-saving tackle before the defensive back could run it back for a touchdown (a “pick-six” in today’s terminology).

Sure enough, as the Ranger quarterback, I let that soggy ball sail into the shallow, right side of the field, and I knew immediately that it was going to be intercepted.

Already sprinting to cover that area, and just after the ball got there, I met head-on with a defensive player for the Blue Jays who had just plucked my errant throw out of the air.

He did not make much of a return, but only because I followed my coach’s repeated instructions — not because I made an outstanding tackle.

As we both pulled ourselves out of the mud, I realized from our scouting reports whom I had just tackled. But I didn’t know until a number of years later that the player would turn out to be such a talented, gifted and famous athlete.

The picker of that Potchak pass was none other than Pete Vuckovich, who went on to pitch for a number of teams in the major leagues. He won the Cy Young Award in 1982 for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Thus, this was a big incident in the career of an average (at best) high school quarterback, as I “rubbed elbows,” and shoulder pads and helmets, with an outstanding Major League baseball player.

Dave Potchak is retired teacher and coach in the Northern Bedford School District. He resides in New Enterprise.

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