Mario Stories

The Football Bounty

THE REQUEST: Write your favorite story about your dad

Okay, here comes the all-timer. You asked for it.

I'm pretty sure I've told this story before, so some of my friends might have already heard it. But here comes maybe my favorite Lanza Family Story of them all. Not to mention the greatest and also, simultaneously, the most horrifying Pee Wee Football Story of all time.

Early side note: My brother and I have talked about all these stories over the years, and Dom and I both agree that this one is definitely the showstopper. In the words of my brother, "that football bounty story is unreal."

I never played football as a kid, but my brother did. And my dad was ALWAYS my brother's Pee Wee football coach. Every single year in the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club Football program, between the years 1982 through 1988, there were the Foxes. And there was my brother, their star center. And there was his ever-present coach, Coach Jim Lanza.

The man of the questionable tactics.

Coach Jim. The Bad Boy of the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club.

And WHY do I call my dad "The Man of the Questionable Tactics?" Well I'm glad you asked, friend. Because I'll tell you.

It's because my dad is the only coach in youth football league history who literally put a bounty on an eleven year old running back.

You hear me, thirty-four? This was a message from Coach Jim.

This is one of the rare stories on this page where I wasn't actually there to witness it myself. But my brother was there, and he's told it to me many, many times over the years. So for this one, I'm pretty much just repeating the legend as it's been told.

Apparently, one Saturday morning out on the pee wee football field, my dad's team is playing against some other random team from Redmond. And on the other team they have this incredible eleven year old running back. And this incredible eleven year old running back is absolutely just KILLING my dad's team. He's pretty much scoring at will, every single time he touches the ball. And my dad is apparently getting more and more pissed, because no one on his team has the ability to stop him.

And so when the game reaches halftime, my dad pulls his team into a little huddle. And this is where he hands out the offer that will forever mark the reason why coaches in the future will now be required to have "background checks."

The offer?

My dad says, "You know what? First one to knock that kid out of the game gets ten bucks."

That's right. My dad literally put a price on the head of an eleven year old kid.

Sorry son, Coach Jim said you were worth ten bucks. Blame the economy.

Important side note: There has been a lot of controversy regarding this story over the years. Not so much over the ethics of the whole thing (yes, I'm aware that putting bounties on children is a moral gray area at best, I'll fully concede that.) No, the controversy has always been... was my dad actually serious when he said that? Or was he just joking around with one of the coaches? Since I wasn't there that day to see it, I couldn't tell you for sure. And my brother has always demurred on this over the years, too, if dad had actually been serious or not. So honestly, neither one of us knows. Although I can ABSOLUTELY tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that it's something my dad would have said. I know that because just like he was always Dom's coach in football, he was always my coach in basketball. And I ABSOLUTELY heard him say very similar things in basketball. If you were ever the star player on the opposing team in basketball, he would send in the dogs after you.

In fact, I had this one teammate in basketball, Kjel Holmberg (pronounced "Shell.") Kjel was always my dad's... for lack of a better term... we'll say... "enforcer." And I literally heard my dad say stuff like this to Kjel all the time: "Hey you see number six over there? The kid with the good jump shot? Well... make sure he doesn't have a very good day."

Kjel Holmberg, number ten. My dad's twelve year old hitman.

"When I first started playing, I barely knew what a basketball was. Jim saw that. He was an excellent evaluator of talent."
-Kjel Holmberg, 2023

So yeah, this really was what it was like when you played for my dad. He would always have an enforcer on his team. And that enforcer would ALWAYS get used. In fact, this was literally my dad's favorite phrase as a basketball coach: "You get four free fouls in a game. USE THEM!"

"Jim Lanza taught me my signature Boys Club move: The hip-check in the paint "they won't call a foul if your arms are in." Good life lesson there. Without Jim Lanza I never would have reached my full potential on the basketball court."

-Kjel Holmberg, 2023

Oh, and also...

And wasn't I just the cutest little girl in my knee socks?

So anyway, back to football.

So my dad has just put a price on the head of an eleven year old running back. Ten bucks if you knock that kid out of the game. And whether the offer had actually been serious or not, I don't know. But, I mean, his team had been listening.

And, um...

So about midway into the third quarter, this kid with the price on his head gets tackled. And the whole thing winds up in a big dogpile. All these kids are just piled there on top of each other, in a big scrum. And when they pull the running back out from the bottom of the pile, it turns out he has twisted his knee. Some kid from my dad's team has fallen onto him at the bottom of the pile, and it has screwed up his knee. Some swear it was an accident. Some swear it was on purpose. Who knows. To this day, forty years later, it's like Fight Club. No one will talk about it.

In any case, as you can imagine, the minute the kids on my dad's team see the kid with the bounty on his head is going to have to come out, they start to get all excited. Because they know that some lucky son of a bitch on their team is about to get paid.

Some lucky eleven year old has just pulled off a hit, and is about to get ten dollars in cash.

Tough luck, Theismann. Maybe next time you won't run for eight hundred yards in the first half.

Oh, and also, consider this a message from Coach Jim.

Now, I'm not going to mention the kid's name, the one who actually got credit for pulling off the hit. Let's just say he was was one of the bigger kids on my dad's team. And his name was... uh... "T-Bone." Let's just say it was T-Bone. And because T-Bone was the last one they pulled off the kid, naturally T-Bone is the one who instantly gets credit for it.

And this, of course, is the moment where everything on the field quickly devolves into chaos.

"T-Bone fell on him!" one kid on my dad's team says, excitedly, when he sees the injured kid. "T-Bone knocked him out of the game! T-Bone gets ten dollars!"

Then a few other kids join in, excitedly chattering. "T-Bone gets ten dollars! T-Bone gets ten dollars!" They're all super excited about it. Now they all start cheering and chanting. "T-Bone! T-Bone! T-Bone! T-Bone!"

Amidst all the cheering, and the injury, the coach from the other team now comes STORMING onto the field. Because he's pissed. He wants to know exactly A) what just happened to his star running back, and B) why the kids on the Foxes are all cheering and saying "T-Bone fell on him! T-Bone gets ten dollars! T-Bone! T-Bone!" He's absolutely furious, and rightfully so. Because something seems a tiny bit shady about this.

Meanwhile, over on the Foxes sideline, there's my dad. Who is furiously trying to get every kid on his team to shut up. Doing whatever he can not to give away the fact that some kid on his team has just earned a fresh, crisp new ten dollar bill. And this is the point in the story that I have to kick myself because damnit, I NEVER ACTUALLY SAW ANY OF THIS. The only reason I know about this story at ALL is because of the two hundred times over the years that I've heard about it from my brother. He was the one who actually saw all the chaos on the field that day. I didn't.

And I don't know about you. But as a storyteller who missed one of the great stories of all time... THAT KILLS ME!

Apparently she had something better to do with her Saturday, like bake muffins.

Oh, and the greatest part about all of the chaos on the field? Well here's the punchline that I always like telling people.

Amidst ALL the chaos on the field, and ALL the screaming and shouting, and ALL the furious efforts by my dad to get his kids to shut up, the ref blows a whistle. And he calls for a penalty.

The penalty?

The coach for the OTHER team gets docked fifteen yards for storming onto the field. Unsportsmanlike conduct.

The REAL villain of the story. Because remember, kids, sportsmanship is important.

And anyway, that's how my dad got away (scot free!) with putting a bounty on an eleven year old kid.

P.S. Oh yeah, and in case you're wondering. Legend has it that one night... in a shadowy back alley somewhere... under the cover of darkness... T-Bone was indeed handed an unmarked white envelope with a fresh, crisp, new ten dollar bill inside of it.
Because remember, that's what a good Godfather does. He rewards you for loyalty.

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