by | Sep 14, 1992 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Three things in life you should never get in the way of: A line-drive foul ball. A war in Central America.

Jerry Ball running for a touchdown.

Did I say running? He wasn’t so much running, as, well, rumbling. Like a cement truck without a brake. Ball, the nose tackle, had the football tucked under his massive arm Sunday, his legs were churning, someone tried to tackle him, and he leapt —

Did I say leapt? It wasn’t so much leaping as, well, lifting off, slowly, like a crate on a forklift, or a mobile home when they take it off the blocks. Anyhow, there he was, in the air, Jerry Ball, eluding a tackle, floating to the end zone —

Did I say floating? It wasn’t so much floating as, say, crash-landing, sort of like a meteor when it impacts Earth. Or a freighter coming into port. Maybe that’s better. Or a bus pulling into the station. Or maybe —

Maybe I should just let Ball — who at 300 pounds is never at a shortage for words or the weight to back them up — describe his first NFL touchdown himself. He was more than willing to do so, after the Lions’ 31-17 romp over the Vikings. In fact, he gave his own play-by-play in the locker room.

“OK, here comes Ball,” he told a group of spellbound reporters, dropping his voice into his best radio announcer imitation, “he sees the fumble. . . . Ball goes over and scoops it up. Now Ball begins to rumble! He sees Rich Gannon coming over. He says, ‘Uh-uh! Don’t try to touch me!’ Gannon dives, but Ball leaps up — higher than the Empire State Building! — over the top. . .

Thank you, Jerry.

The Empire State Building?

Well. Who’s to argue? This is Jerry Ball we’re talking about. The man has a horseshoe branded into his skin. You wanna argue?

True, the play on which he scored his touchdown, the first scrimmage play of the second half, a fumble by Minnesota running back Terry Allen, probably would have been called dead were instant replay still in existence. Allen appeared to be down.

Can you imagine Ball, after all that effort, and they were reviewing it upstairs? He’d lumber up himself.

OFFICIAL 1: Looks like a dead ball.

OFFICIAL 2: Yeah, sure does.


OFFICIAL 1: On second thought, fumble, definitely.

OFFICIAL 2: Definitely, fumble.

As I said, this is Jerry Ball we’re talking about. And he doesn’t often get to carry the ball — let alone score a touchdown. The last time was in high school, when he played fullback, and was light enough to get away with it.

The 21 yards he scampered Sunday — did I say scampered? Maybe stomped, stomped is a better word, or trudged — represented the Lions’ longest running play from scrimmage. True, it was the other guys’ scrimmage. But Barry Sanders carried the ball 26 times for Detroit; he never had a run as long as Jerry’s.

“Are you ready to take over for Barry as running back?” Ball was asked.

“Only if I get to take over his paycheck. I’m gonna carry the load, I might as well carry it to the bank, right?”

Ball carried the load Sunday — Ball, and the Lions’ special teams, which scored two touchdowns. One of those was a gorgeous punt return by the man who specializes in gorgeous punt returns, Mel Gray, this one a 58-yarder.

Suffice it to say, Gray went 58 yards at least as quickly as Ball went 21.

The other was a blocked field goal return by Melvin Jenkins, who, like Ball, found the pigskin just sitting there on the carpet, scooped it up, and was off to the races.

“Jerry’s run required a lot more, uh, effort than mine,” Jenkins said, grinning.

“Man, I watched Jerry run,” scoffed offensive lineman Lomas Brown. “It looked like he was in slow motion.”

Ball, our newest running sensation, was undaunted. Across the room, he was still marveling at his work.

“That was really an important play, wasn’t it?” a reporter asked.

Ball grinned. “What you’re saying is, I did something pivotable, right?”


Well, you get his drift. And the answer is yes. It was pivotable. Or pivotal. But mostly because the Lions’ offensive line — for the second week in this two-week-old season — was missing more than memories. It was missing holes. The holes that Sanders needs to run through. And blocks, the blocks that Rodney Peete needs to get off his passes.

Hey. This was not the Fearsome Foursome the Lions were trying to stop Sunday. These were the Minnesota Vikings of 1992. I don’t even want to think about next week, against Charles Mann and the Redskins.

So I won’t. I’ll think about Ball, and how he rambled. Oh, how he rambled! There was that moment, when he went airborne, and poor Rich Gannon was underneath him. Can you imagine what Gannon must have thought?

1. “Where did the lights go?”

2. “The blimp? Indoors?”

He almost certainly didn’t think it was Jerry Ball, scoring a touchdown. But it was. A great run. A historic moment. And I’m glad I saw it.

“How did it feel?” Ball was asked.

” . . . Unique,” he said.

That’s the word I was looking for.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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