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How did “Rus” Lindley get his nickname, “Butter Fingers”? Now I’ll ask you one! “Why did the guys call six foot Harry Tibbits, ’Shorty’?” Answer that and you’ve answered your own question about “Rus.”

I guess, if you’d go into the science of nicknames far enough you’d find that the name you can pick which comes the furtherest from fitting who you’re picking it for is the one that suits the best! There how’s that for getting rid of an involved sentence?

At any rate, if “Rus” really deserved to be dubbed “Butter Fingers” then the moon is really made of green cheese and the cow really did jump over it and all that stuff. Because if there was one thing that “Rus” wasn’t, it was butter fingers.

“Rus” was a lean, lanky, long-armed, awkward, thin-nosed cuss that you’d think, to look at, didn’t have an ounce of ambition or a pint of sense. The next minute you’d wake up to find the ounce a hundred pounds of condensed lightning and the pint a couple of gallons of trigger thinking. That’s the kind of a surprise package “Rus” was. And, brother, look out!! If “Rus” ever had occasion to lay hands on you he didn’t let go until he got good and ready. Try your durndest and you couldn’t shake loose the grip he carried in those long, slender fish hooks of his. “Butter Fingers”?

What a laugh! “Rus” was never known to have muffed anything in his life!

It was “Butter Fingers” who climbed the greased pole and took down the Senior colors his Freshman year. It was “Butter Fingers” who untied the wet knots in the fellows’ clothes the time we Sophies got caught swimming in the Old Bend, thus saving us from a most embarrassing situation. It was “Butter Fingers” who hung by his digits from a window sill on the fourth story of our dorm when she was burning down ... hung there ten minutes till the firemen got a ladder under him after he’d been cut off from the stairs. He saved seven roommates by that sure-grip of his, swinging them from a window where they were trapped and sending them down the stairs ahead of him before the fire put the stairs out of commission.

And who but “Butter Fingers” could have “human-fly-ed” it up the front of the old stone chapel, clear up into the belfry? Of course he did it on a dare but those wonder fingers of his just pulled him up, catching hold of places that the ordinary person would tear their finger nails on and cry thirteen bloody murders from the strain of hanging to crevices by the finger tips.

That was “Butter Fingers”!

But, using the words of Al Jolson, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” What I’ve just got through telling you was just practice exercises for the bird with the muscular mitts, the uncanny grip, the steam shovel hands and the never-break-clutch.

Say, I hope you’re not getting this “Butter Fingers” wrong. He was long, lean, lanky, awkward, thin-nosed and all that ... but he wasn’t built like a foundry. His hands weren’t extra large, either ... excepting that the fingers were extra long. He only weighed a hundred and fifty-one pounds which isn’t much when you’re thinking in terms of football and so much for so tall. That’s where “Butter Fingers” had you fooled. You had to see him in action before you’d believe what “Rus” Lindley could do.

Was he modest? He was so quiet and unassuming that you could hear his watch ticking in his vest pocket! Was he athletic? Don’t be ridiculous! If he wasn’t athletic anywhere but in his fingers he’d have been athletic enough. As it was, he was the best end that ever played on a football eleven representing Burden High!

What makes you think “Butter Fingers” was a freak? He wasn’t born strong-fingered. Naw. He had to develop it. What made him do it? Well, I don’t know as I could answer that exactly. I remember “Butter Fingers” saying once he’d gotten a kick out of chinning himself ever since he was a baby. Sure! You don’t chin yourself with your chin ... you chin yourself with your ... anyhow it’s mostly done with your grip! You get a hold of a bar or something and pull your body up rigid! All right, then! Why didn’t you say you’d tried it? Ain’t so easy, is it? Especially after the tenth time!

Can you imagine what sort of an end a guy with a powerful grip could make? Can you figure what would happen to a football if “Butter Fingers” ever laid his grapplers on it? And can you picture a runner trying to get away from a tackle by a bird like “Rus”? A fly might as well try to pull its feet off a sheet of sticky fly paper as a runner to jerk loose from “Butter Fingers” once he’s got him.

Would you like to hear how “Butter Fingers” won his undying fame? Have I got the time? No, but I’ll take time. This story’s worth it!

Just make yourself as comfortable as possible. You’d better sit on the edge of your chair, though, because that’s where you’ll be before very long anyway. And I’ll start right in at the beginning so you won’t miss any of the picture.

First, you got to get a close-up of this fellow, “Rus” Lindley. He’s the kind they describe in the movies as “Oliver, who takes everything seriously including football.” Before any of the guys nicknamed him “Butter Fingers,” “Rus” was just an ordinary, awkward candidate for the team ... but while he was picking up bumps in practice he was likewise putting on bumps of knowledge. “Rus” had one of them scientific slants of mind and he always had to figure why he was supposed to do a certain thing a certain way. Once he’d found out the reason he was satisfied. Professor Tweedy, our “math” teacher, used to say that “Rus” was a “natural born thinker.” But geometry and trigonometry weren’t the only subjects that “Rus” approached from all angles. He used his bean at all times and places.

That’s why, when “Rus” went out for football, he felt called upon to exercise his gray matter. It was perfectly obvious to him, for instance, after a careful study of the rudiments of the game, that the weather might seriously alter one’s style of play.

“Take the difference between a dry field and a wet field,” he says to me, one afternoon, “I’m surprised the coach doesn’t make us practice with a wet ball and the field soaked down. The almanac indicates rain three Saturdays this fall and the signs couldn’t be any worse for torrential precipitation on the Saturday we play Edgewood. What’s that going to mean? Simply that the luckiest team wins! But if the coach used the little mechanism inside his bean it might mean that the smartest team would win. What made Napoleon great was his dry land operations. But, oh boy, didn’t he get soaked at Waterloo! Of course that’s a rather far-fetched illustration. Just the same, you’ve got to know how to handle yourself under all conditions or you’re practically sunk before you start!”

I agreed with “Rus” not feeling equal to stacking my brain up against his, and besides he has a way of making things sound darn logical. Seeing as how the coach seemed to be overlooking a good bet, “Rus” decides that he’s going to get the training he should have anyway. So we meet one night after football practice in his backyard.

“This is what I’d call a laboratory experiment,” explains “Rus” as he soaks down the back lawn with the garden hose, “The other boys would probably give us the merry ha ha if they saw what we’re going to do but if my theory’s right we’ll see the day when we can laugh up our own sleeves!”

When the lawn’s nice and oozy and slippery from super-saturation, “Rus” turns the water on the football and gets it just as wet as though it had fallen in a lake.

“All right, Mark,” he says to me, “I’ll hit the dirt first. This kind of practice isn’t exactly going to be pleasant but it has a good chance of proving profitable. Now you stand over there and roll that football across the grass. I’m going to try to fall on it!”

It’s easy enough for me to do what “Rus” directs. But it’s not so easy for “Rus” to do what he intends. We’re dressed in our football togs, of course, right down to the cleated shoes. But even at that the grass is so sleek that the footing’s as treacherous as a polished ball room floor. On his first try, “Rus” slips and falls flat before he gets to the ball and the pigskin rolls to the fence.

“There went the chance to save the game!” he points out as he gets to his feet. “Let’s try her again!”

Honest, you never saw anybody that’s such a glutton for punishment! “Rus” gets sopping wet and all grass-stained and dog-tired but he keeps me throwing that football in all sorts of zig-zag bounces across the lawn till it’s so dark that the street lights come on. And then he apologizes for not having traded off with me so’s I could have got some of the same experience. “I’m just as well satisfied,” I answers. “You don’t need to feel bad about that!”

“We’ll do it again, every chance we get,” says “Rus,” not seeming to notice my lack of enthusiasm, “I’m rotten! I missed at least half my dives. And as for scooping the ball up on the run, wasn’t I pitiful? But that’s what an end’s got to be able to do and yours truly isn’t going to make a bad muff in a game if he can help it!”

Being a friend of “Rus’s” and practically a next door neighbor as well as a team-mate, I can’t really turn the serious-minded bird down. Besides, I have to admit to myself that it’s darn interesting watching the vim that “Rus” puts into this secret practice. Some nights it’s mighty chilly and with the grass wet down it’s enough to make your spinal column wriggle, but “Rus” never seems to mind.

“The most annoying part of this thing for me,” says “Rus,” “is ‘Mom’s’ objection to my draping these wet togs over her radiators. She claims the house smells like a Chinese laundry every night. I tell her she must be a good sport and put up with it for the good of the team!”

Say, you’d be surprised, after a couple of weeks, to see how “Rus” improves! It gets to be marvelous the way he can tear across the lawn, reach down with those long fingers, scoop that slippery pigskin up and keep right on going toward what he imagines is the enemy’s goal!

“Preparedness!” he’d smile at me. “That’s one of the greatest words in the English language! I want to be ready when the fumble comes!”

Sometimes “Rus” would hit the lawn like an India rubber ball and almost seem to wrap his lean, lanky frame around the pigskin, bouncing up on his feet on the roll and untangling his legs from the knot to be streaking away almost before you could tell what was happening. Once he put so much steam behind it that he couldn’t stop in time and plowed into the back fence, busting two boards loose and bruising his shoulder.

“Zowie! I ran into some real opposition that time!” he grinned.

It isn’t long before all this extra practicing that “Rus” is doing begins to show up on the football field. In scrimmage he gets the reputation of being “sure-fingered” because he drags down passes, recovers fumbles and handles the ball so smoothly that it seems like he can’t miss getting hold of it no matter how wild it goes. In comparison the rest of us look pretty sick, all excepting me ... and I’m a little better than average because of my experience with “Rus.” Several times, while I’m playing my position at left half, there’s a poor pass back from center and I have to drop on the ball. Believe me, I’m mighty thankful then for the special training I’ve picked up!

“This game of football is just a matter of following the ball,” “Rus” airs to me one night, “I don’t care what these wise birds say. There’s breaks in every game that, if we could take advantage of ’em, would do more than all the fancy plays ever invented. Look at last week when we played Madison. We have ’em down on their own ten yard line and we break through and block the punt and two of our fellows dives for it. Do they get the ball? Yes, they do not! A Madison back, who knows his onions, shoots in picks the ball up off his shoe tops after it’s bounced out of our fellows’ arms and runs forty yards before he’s stopped. That’s what I call converting good fortune out of disaster! Either one of our boys ought to have downed the ball on Madison’s eight yard line but both of ’em muffed it. On a dry field, too...! Inexcusable!”

“But you must realize, Rus,” I argues, “that your attitude on this matter is very exceptional. You can’t expect all football players to pay the attention you’ve been paying to developing themselves to a fine point on picking up loose balls!”

“Razzberries!” retorts “Rus,” “Then they’re not worthy of the name of football players!”

And there the arbitration rests. But the season doesn’t get much older than “Rus’s” mania begins to break out in a new channel. He’s so anxious to see all the boys proficient in the gentle art of falling on the ball that he takes to ragging them every time they miss out.

“Butter fingers!” he yells, and gets a glare in return for his trouble.

“Butter fingers, yourself!” cries the guy who’s just looked foolish.

And the first thing you know, the name that “Rus” has branded his team-mates with, comes back on him like a boomerang. So, the only fellow who doesn’t deserve the title of “Butter Fingers” is the one who gets it!

“That’s all right,” “Rus” says to me. “Let ’em call me ’Butter Fingers.’ I’ll make ’em eat that word twenty times a day. And they’ll be trying extra hard to keep from being ‘Butter Fingers.’ You see!”

Which makes it sound like “Rus” has decided to act the martyr to some adopted cause! Now right here’s where a complication enters my story in the shape of Mr. Maxwell Tincup, dignified member of the school board and a political power in the town. Among other things Mr. Tincup is bitterly opposed to football as a sport that’s “absolutely barbarious.” Football, in Mr. Tincup’s exalted opinion, is a machine which manufactures a lot of good-for-nothing rowdies. He’s made the air blue at many board meetings, voicing his protest against continuance of the sport as an athletic activity at Burden High but he’s never quite been able to get a majority vote against it. Just the same his attitude has stirred up considerable feeling and hasn’t exactly made him popular with the boys.

“What Tincup needs is a dose of second childhood,” “Butter Fingers” prescribes one day. “He evidently didn’t have any the first time!”

Mr. Tincup’s home is right on our way to school, a big old-fashioned house that stands on a corner of the street, surrounded by a high picket fence. We often see the anti-footballist’s three year old son hanging to the fence and peeking out as though he’d like to investigate the outer world.

“Look at the poor kid,” points out Butter Fingers as we’re passing one afternoon. “They keep him as spic and span as a children’s advertisement. Maxwell Tincup, Junior’s sure going to be a chip off the old block if the old block has anything to say about it! I’ll bet some day he takes the tiddly-winks championship of South America!”

“Are you sure Mr. Tincup won’t consider that too strenuous?” I asks, innocent like.

“Butter Fingers” grins and shrugs his shoulders.

It’s not until the Monday before the big game of the year with Edgewood that the something happens which changes the complexion of the whole situation and brings Mr. Tincup’s objection to football to a boil’s head.

“Butter Fingers” and me are coming back from the athletic field after an extra hard workout. I have a football and we’re tossing it back and forth as we’re trotting down the sidewalk, me about fifty feet ahead of “Butter Fingers” so we can have plenty of distance to pass. As we cut across the corner toward Tincup’s house I spot him out in the yard, washing his front porch off with the stream from the garden hose. “Hello!” says I to myself, “Mr. Tincup’s getting industrious in his old age!”

Just then “Butter Fingers” lets loose an extra long throw. I can see at a glance that the ball’s going to be over my head unless I can take it on the jump. Nope! I miss it by three feet, banging up against Mr. Tincup’s front fence trying to pull it down.

“Look out!” I yells when I see what’s going to happen.

If “Butter Fingers” had took aim he couldn’t have made a squarer hit. The pigskin spirals over the fence and plunks Mr. Maxwell Tincup smack on the side of the head. The blow’s so unexpected it knocks the nozzle of the hose out of his hands and before anybody can say “Ask me another!” the hose squirms around like a snake and soaks him from head to foot. Mr. Tincup begins yelling like he’s in the middle of the ocean, going down for the last time. It takes him a couple of seconds to get on to what’s hit him, but the minute he sees the football lying on the lawn he lets out a bellow of rage and turns to us, shaking his fist.

“All right, young gentlemen!” he snorts. “That’s the end of your ball ... and it’s the end of you, for that matter!”

It may be the end of us but it’s not the end of our ball so far as “Butter Fingers” is concerned. He’s over the fence in a jiffy and streaking for the pigskin as though he’s on a football field. Mr. Tincup doesn’t suspect any opposition on picking up what “Butter Fingers” regards as a free ball. He’s too dripping wet and ripping mad to suspect anything. As he stoops down to pick up the ball which is also wet, it slips out of his fingers. To make matters worse he kicks it accidently with his foot and it rolls along in front of him. It’s right then that “Butter Fingers” arrives. He takes a running dive across the wet lawn, skids right under Mr. Tincup’s nose, curls himself around the pigskin, bounces up on his feet and keeps on going till he comes to the fence which he hurdles.

Mr. Tincup stares at the human cyclone, his mouth so wide open that you can see all the gold in his teeth.

“Come here!” he shouts, waving his arms.

“I’m sorry!” calls “Butter Fingers,” “We didn’t mean to do what we did but this is our ball and we got a right to it!”

“You’ve got no right to be playing football!” raves Mr. Tincup, beginning to shiver now as the air’s kind of cold. “And I’m going to see that you don’t play football hereafter!”

“Gee!” I says to “Butter Fingers,” when we’ve beat it. “I don’t know as that was such a bright stunt your rescuing that pigskin. We might better have let old Tincup have it. Now he’s going to raise a rumpus for sure! He’ll probably go to the board.”

“Butter Fingers” gives me the laugh.

“Make your pulse behave!” he says. “Everybody knows Mr. Tincup’s a great guy to holler. He won’t get any further than his echo. Say I don’t hear you mentioning anything about that pickup I made. Speak up, brother! Can’t you recognize a masterpiece?”

“Your masterpiece,” I answers, “Wasn’t the pickup. It was hitting Mr. Tincup on the bean!”

“Just the same,” argues “Butter Fingers,” “if the old boy’d only had some football experience I’d never have gotten away with the ball. That only goes to show the value of...!”

“Oh, dry up!” I orders. “You’re getting unbalanced on that subject...!”

It isn’t until the next morning that we get the glad tidings of bad news. Ain’t it the truth that everyone’s glad to be the first to tell you something sad? And what do you suppose has happened?

That peeved Mr. Tincup has stirred up a special called meeting of the school board and has gone and gotten us suspended from the team! He’s raised a terrific rumpus about football in general and has tried to get the big game of the year with Edgewood canceled but he can’t get away with that. He’s influential enough to put a crimp in the team, though, and to put a crimp in us in particular, by getting the board to have us kicked off the eleven just when we’re needed most. I hope you won’t think I’m handing myself bouquets on purpose but I’m the best backfield man the team’s got and I’ve already told you how hot “Butter Fingers” is as an end. Are we sore? Are we sick? So is most everyone else but what good does that do ’em? The students get out a petition asking for the school board to meet again and reconsider the matter but the school board pays about as much attention as a deaf ear.

“We’re sunk all right,” I says to “Butter Fingers” in the middle of the week. “Leave it to Tincup to see that we don’t play Saturday! He’s got it in for us for fair! And we’re going to be treated to the exquisite pleasure of sitting on the sidelines and seeing our team take a nice trimming from Edgewood!”

“Edgewood’s going to be plenty tough!” admits “Butter Fingers,” soberly. “We wouldn’t have been any too strong with our best line-up against ’em. Wouldn’t this give you a pain? Especially after all the extra work we’ve put in so’s we’d be in tip top shape for that game!”

“Don’t cry on my shoulder,” I replies, “I got tears enough of my own!”

Saturday comes. It’s the one day in the fall that the almanac gets absolutely right. There’s a precipitous rain falling. The weather sort of reflects our gloom.

“It’s just the kind of a day I’ve been dreaming about,” moans “Butter Fingers,” “There’s bound to be plenty of fumbles. I ought to be in there to get ’em!”

“Tell that to Tincup!” I answers.

By noon a wind springs up and the clouds lift a little. The downpour begins to let up. But the football field is already a young lake and water is backed up in the streets. It’s going to be a grand afternoon for ducks and a splashing time for a gridiron battle.

At one o’clock, an hour before game time, “Butter Fingers” says to me, “Mark, there’s one thing old Tincup can’t keep us from doing. He can’t prohibit our going to the locker room and hanging around with the fellows till they’re due on the field. Maybe we can cheer the gang up a bit!”

“Not much chance of that,” I replies. “But, I’m with you, nevertheless...!”

So we sets out. And of course our direction takes us right past the house that’s owned by the object of our affections! I suggests to “Butter Fingers” that we make a detour but he growls that he’ll be darned if the high and mighty Mr. Maxwell Tincup is going to make him take so much as an extra step.

The rain has entirely stopped now and by the breeze that’s blowing it looks like the sky is through for the day. As we get near the picket fence we discover something unusual. Mr. Tincup’s three-year-old kid is out by the curb trying to sail a toy boat in the water. And standing on the front porch, staring at us with a satisfied grin on his face, is the anti-football member of the school board himself! Mr. Tincup looks at us as much as to say, “Well, how do you young rascals feel now?”

There’s nothing we can do but swallow our medicine and parade past with eyes front as though we haven’t even seen him. This we start to do when all of a sudden a strong gust of wind comes along and takes the kid’s hat off, rolling it into the street. “Butter Fingers” sees this, and grins.

“Dadda, look!” says the kid, pointing a finger at his hat which is lying in a puddle of water in the middle of the street. We watch the kid, laughing inside to think of anything happening which might affect old Tincup’s dignity. The kid runs along the curb, finds a place where he can step over the stream of water and starts out on the street after the hat.

“Junior, come here!” yells Mr. Tincup, hurrying down off the porch. “Papa’ll get it for you!”

But Papa doesn’t have a chance. Things commence to take place after that so fast that it leaves me dizzy.

Just as the kid starts off the curb a big, heavy duty truck comes thundering down the side street and turns sharp around the corner. The driver catches sight of the kid, lets loose the klaxon and reaches for the brakes. Seeing the danger, the kid tries to beat it back, slips on the wet pavement and falls! I stop dead, looking on, petrified. I’m so frozen that I don’t even see “Butter Fingers” leave my side. My eyes are glued on the kid and the truck, with the brakes set, skidding right down on him! I hear Mr. Tincup scream. Then there’s a swishing sound and a body goes sliding along the pavement. It strikes the kid, arms reach out, fingers grab a hold, the body does a roll ... and then you can’t tell which is which. Honest, I don’t dare look for a second, it’s so close! But when I opens my eyes again I see the truck driver crawling down off his seat, wiping perspiration from his forehead. Over on the opposite curb there’s a long, lean, lanky bird getting to his feet and helping up a badly scared youngster that’s all wet and dirty.

“Who says football doesn’t fit you for something useful?” I hear “Butter Fingers” mumble to himself. Then he stoops down. “How are you, kid, all right? We took a nice, wet roll, didn’t we?”

The next instant an insane man races across the street and grabs the kid in his arms and sits down on the damp curb and breaks into sobs.

“Boy,” said the truck driver, extending his hand to “Butter Fingers,” “that was the nerviest stunt I ever seen! Look how far that old wagon skidded past where you were!”

“Butter Fingers” looks.

“Been a bad place for a fumble, wouldn’t it?” he says, then glances quick at me. “Say, Mark we’ll have to be legging it or we’ll miss out seeing the team!”

“Just a minute!” says a choky voice from the curb. “Where you boys going?”

“To see the game!” I answers, rather short.

“No, you’re not!” raves Mr. Tincup, jumping to his feet. “You’re going to play!”

He fumbles in his pocket, pulls out a calling card and scribbles on the back.

“Give that to Coach Spilman,” he says, handing it to “Butter Fingers.” “I’ll have to get in touch with the other members of the board before I can get your suspension lifted but I’ll do it, boys, if it’s humanly possible! Meanwhile, you get to the locker room and get all dressed ready to go in at a minute’s notice!”

We’re not reinstated till the beginning of the last quarter but it’s time enough for “Butter Fingers,” with the score 13 to 7 against us, to scoop up an Edgewood fumble on our seventeen yard line and run practically the length of the field for a touchdown! Then I kicks the extra point to make the score 14 to 13 which is the way it stands when the game ends.

As we’re going off the field an overjoyed member of the school board comes pushing through the crowd and compliments “Butter Fingers” for his star performance, ending up with, “And young man, I can’t ever tell you how grateful I am for that other wonderful thing you...!”

“Don’t mention it!” says “Butter Fingers,” breaking in modestly. “The thanks are on my side. I didn’t have much practice this week and picking up the kid just put me back in trim!”