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Confessions Of 'The Worst High School Quarterback Of All Time'06:37
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Josh Keefe's team went 0-23 during his three seasons as quarterback. (Courtesy Josh Keefe)
Josh Keefe's team went 0-23 during his three seasons as quarterback. (Courtesy Josh Keefe)

I’ve spent more than a decade stewing over it, rolling the memories around in my head, wondering if it could’ve really been that bad.

Now, I’m ready to accept my place in history: Of the thousands of American boys who have played quarterback for their high school football teams, I was the worst.

I went 0–23 as the starting quarterback for John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor, Maine — a perfectly imperfect record that came during a longer schoolwide run of 41 consecutive losses. As the guy under center for nearly three full seasons, that streak feels like mine more than anyone else’s.

That’s not to say it was all my fault. Losing was a total team effort. During my three years of varsity football, we did not once have a lead. And this was against teams from the smallest schools in Eastern Maine, which is about as far you can get — both geographically and athletically — from the high school football hotbeds of California, Texas and Florida. I did not, to my knowledge, ever play against anyone who was all that good at football.

And yet, we lost again and again, almost always by more than 30 points.

'An Inversion Of Everything The Position Represents'

I still feel a kind of low-grade, stomach-knotting despair when I think back on my high school football career. Those losses don’t sting as much as they once did, but I can still feel those failures — and the feeling that I, personally, was a failure.

A quarterback who never wins a game is an inversion of everything the position represents. He is an illiterate valedictorian, a superhero who lets the bad guys destroy the universe. I was never cool, and I never dated the beautiful girls.

I was much more likely to get sent to detention for my untucked shirt (a dress code violation) than to win any kind of acclaim from my classmates.

In addition to my role on the football field, I also rode the bench for the varsity basketball team. After practice one day my sophomore year, the upperclassmen were discussing how good the football team would be if only they all went out for the squad. "I don’t even know who plays quarterback," one of them said, before asserting that any of them could probably play the position better than whoever it was who did.

Then they all started to wonder: "Just who was the quarterback of the football team?"

I finally offered that it was me, and they politely changed the subject. Our team was so pathetic that even a bunch of high school jocks could see that it was cruel to mock us.

Josh Keefe says his team had never held a lead during his high school football tenure. (Courtesy Josh Keefe)
Josh Keefe says his team had never held a lead during his high school football tenure. (Courtesy Josh Keefe)

In my two-and-a-half years at the helm, I believe that I passed for four touchdowns and ran for another, while throwing a few dozen interceptions. I’d like to confirm those numbers, but my former coaches don’t have statistics or film from those seasons. This, it seems, is pretty common: Nobody keeps track of statistics for terrible high school teams. No one wants to make a high school kid feel bad about losing.

So, given my 0–23 record, my lack of even mediocre statistics in defeat, and our team’s complete ineptitude in spite of relative parity with our opponents, I am confident in saying: I was the worst high school quarterback of all time.

And so, wearing the crown, I wonder what the point was. I worked really hard for three years to win a game. There was nothing in this world I wanted more. I prayed for wins after I stopped praying for anything else.

Learning How To Lose

After our last game, a relatively close 21–6 loss to our rivals Orono High School, I was overwhelmed by emotions I didn’t understand and couldn’t express. I was sad, disheartened and demoralized. But, since I had felt that way for most of three years, I was also relieved that it was finally over.

I didn’t cry that day. I sat on the dark bus home in stunned silence, that strange mixture of sadness and relief leaving me unable to articulate anything meaningful when I high-fived and hugged my fellow seniors as we left the locker room for the final time.

It was hard to see any purpose in what we had gone through.

But now, years later, I wonder if maybe there was something to be gained from never winning.

As a culture, we try to make every kid feel like a winner. Maybe we should also give every child a task that he will fail at again and again, along with teammates to fail with. He might learn the value of putting up a good fight. He might learn that trying and failing to achieve a long-shot dream is better than settling for a passionless life. He might learn how to lose, which is a valuable skill that this life provides no shortage of opportunities to put into practice, and yet shockingly few people know how to do well.

I know there are quarterbacks out there who won every game, who got the girl, who made it on TV and got their names on statues. It must have been great, conquering a fantasy world. But I learned something about living in ours.

I’m proud of all the losing I did.

Not everybody keeps at it until they’re the worst to ever play the game.

Josh Keefe originally wrote a longer version of this essay for Slate. He's an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News, which re-published his essay in September.

This segment aired on November 23, 2019.

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Josh Keefe Twitter Reporter
Josh Keefe is a contributor to Only A Game.

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