Monday, February 13, 2006
Six-Man’s Biggest Man
Greenville, New York, to Rosebud, Montana? When Pat was very young—following his parents’ divorce—his mother blindly placed her finger on a map of the United States that landed on Forsyth, Montana. Afterwards, she took out an advert in a Forsyth newspaper looking for a “country guy.” Local Kurt Lehti answered the request and the rest was history.
When it comes to football, there are many teams that would like to have a guy like Viera on their front line opening up holes for fleet-footed running backs or clogging up the traps of a well-honed offensive line. But when you play for the Rosebud High School Wranglers in Rosebud, Montana (pop. approximately 150) you play six-man football. And six-man football has much to do with speed. Unfortunately for Pat Viera, a guy that measures five-foot, 11-inches and weighs in at 350 pounds is probably as much disadvantaged in six-man play as he would be advantaged in 11-man play.
Listening to Pat talk about his life on the gridiron, one gets the feeling that if he had a choice, he’d gladly choose his size and play six-man football over another challenge that isn’t quite as obvious but constantly summons him beyond the football field.
When Pat was born, due to complications at birth, his right arm was impaired by Erbs Palsy—a disabling and incurable condition that renders limbs nearly useless. In Viera’s case, he estimates that his arm is about 15 percent functional. And if one looks closely, there is a noticeable size difference between his left and right arm. Sometime around the age of three, he once asked his mother which of her two arms was her “bad” arm.
He’s considering a tattoo on his “good” arm with his last name spelled out on it. When asked why, he simply stated, “The chicks dig it.”
Back on the football field, Viera uses his right arm as a decoy much like a boxer fakes a punch with one hand and throws a real punch with the other. According to Pat, if his opponents are paying attention, they usually solve the mystery of his right arm by the end of the first quarter. Viera might not be in on every tackle or play, but he’s the last guy on the field one would want to lose track of if playing against the Wranglers.
Despite the forces that appear to work against Viera, he isn’t discouraged a bit. Not only is he competitive in football at Rosebud, but also is a member of the basketball and track teams. As he put it regarding life in Rosebud, “What else is there to do?”
I first saw Pat Viera during his sophomore year—it was also Rosebud’s first home football game in 19 years. His physical size wasn’t nearly as shocking as his age, considering he had a full-bearded face (neatly trimmed to a goatee). He looked like a seasoned 25-year-old professional football player.
Now a senior, Pat still considers himself a typical high school student who struggles as much as anyone with the traditional academic rigor of math, sciences and literature. And like any senior, he’s eager to move on past high school and prove himself in the world beyond Rosebud including travels to Europe and other places overseas.
During that first home game, many of the opposing team players challenged one another to knock Viera on his duff—reminiscent of Native American warriors proving their bravery by capturing coup from their enemies. Despite being a marked man that day, each time the indestructible Viera came off the field, he showed no sign of hostility toward the other team. Sometimes he would say, “Man, that guy can really hit” while the Wrangler fans on the sidelines laughed in support.
Later that same year following the homecoming bonfire, Pat was involved in an automobile accident with other Rosebud classmates that seriously damaged his good (left) arm. So serious was it, that Pat could not pull himself from the wreckage because neither arm was capable of grabbing anything. Two schoolmates lifted him to safety and Viera spent the next six months without the use of his good arm. Classmates carried his books and fed him during school hours while his mother fed and bathed him at home.
When asked about his favorite food dishes, his mother’s Puerto Rican rice and seasoned pork tops the list, but as he put it, “It’s hard to beat a good hamburger.”
Forsyth, Montana is the nearest big town (pop. 1,944) where someone from Rosebud can find a fast-food hamburger. Besides burgers, Viera and his classmates make the short trip on any given Saturday night for bowling. Sheepishly, Pat owned up to an unimpressive 110 bowling average.
Viera isn’t quite ready to hang up his cleats yet when it comes to football. He’s hoping for an opportunity to participate in football at the collegiate level, even if it means as a walk-on. One senses that he’s aware of the odds stacked against him. Regardless, when Pat’s football days are truly behind him, he’s hoping to make a difference in people’s lives by serving as a counselor or teacher. No doubt, he’s probably been influential as a role model already amongst the Rosebud community.
Pat Viera is probably one of those individuals who come along every now and then that seems destined for greatness. Two hundred years from now there will probably be a statue of him in the future-to-be town square of Rosebud. In some ways he has already achieved greatness—not so much for his greatness in size, but his greatness in character.