This article originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

When I was in third grade at Steamboat Springs Elementary School, I came in second place in my age division in the punt, pass and kick competition. Actually, I finished in third, but when the event was over, we found out that Derrick Duckles signed up for the wrong age group. I can’t really blame Mrs. Duckles. I mean, the three of us – myself, Derrick and Kevin Kaminski were all in Mrs. Stanko’s third grade class. I guess the Duckles Clan forgot Derrick repeated second grade. So, Kevin ended up in first, I finished in second and Derrick, well, I’m sure he has something to talk about on the shrink’s couch.

This was 1977, the year the Orange Crush would lead the Broncos to their first Super Bowl. It was a magical time and all I wanted to be was a member of the awesome Denver Broncos. Kevin’s dad actually did play for the Broncos. He was a center during the ’60s when they were god-awful. You didn’t retire on a pro football player’s salary back in those days. Mr. Kaminski opened up a successful beer distributorship that Kevin would one day inherit as an adult. It was pretty cool going into Kevin’s house and seeing all sorts of Broncos stuff all over the place. I thought Kevin was just about as cool as you could get. Years and years later Kevin and I would become friends all over again when I moved back to Colorado. Kevin is a big burly guy who has a wonderful family; they lived in Steamboat for years until recently leaving for warmer climes.

Kevin was groomed to run that beer distributorship. And I became a soccer player.

I didn’t mean to become a soccer player – it just sort of, well, happened. There wasn’t Pop Warner football in Steamboat in the late ’70s. I mean, c’mon, who in the world would we play? The nine kids from Craig whose fathers all suffered from emphysema from being in the coal mine all day? There was a good high school team, but that was a long, long ways away. However, for the first time ever, Steamboat was starting a youth soccer league.

I had played soccer the year before without any kind of fanfare. I was pretty scared about getting kicked or hit by the ball. I would like to think that’s a normal set of circumstances for a 7-year-old. I never scored a goal in any of my games. Heck, I’m not all that sure I even kicked the ball that year. Still, I loved playing sports and if I couldn’t play football, which I know I would’ve played, soccer would do just fine.

The problem with living in the middle of nowhere is that, while it’s often pretty, you are still in the middle of nowhere. Don’t get it twisted, the main reason my dad moved us to Colorado had nothing to do with youth sports. He was finishing his second book and just needed a change. He had come across Steamboat in some sort of brochure, took a visit on his own and then announced we would be leaving Massachusetts to move to “Skiing Cowboy Land.” Steamboat today looks like New York City compared to what it once was. In fact, when they finally closed down the Tugboat Saloon a couple of years ago, my heart lost interest in going to a place that seems to thrive on destroying the past. But, in the late ’70s, Steamboat was pretty wild. As a family, we skied our asses off. Every Tuesday and Thursday the school kids had a choice: Leave school at noon and ski, or stay in school. Seemed like a pretty easy choice. There was no helicopter parenting in those days. Hell, there were no safety bars on the chairlifts. My brother and I (at 8 and 7 years old), would often ski on our own, whipping down Voodoo and Heavenly Daze. We were there for the skiing, but before the snowflakes flew, we had soccer.

Pelé was a big deal in the ’70s and soccer was actually kind of hot. It was on TV a bunch and seemed pretty fun. Well, okay, it was a lot of fun. Now, again, it wasn’t football, but there wasn’t a football team to be on. My parents signed me up for the first ever Steamboat Springs youth soccer team. Apparently my one year of playing made me an expert as it was quite apparent that none of these other kids had ever played soccer. I was going to be a star!

Not only did the kids have no idea what they were doing, the adults were as equally clueless. When you go to an 8-year-old’s soccer game now it may be 7-v-7 on a modified field with a smaller net. You know, “smart.” Not us! We played on the high school field. It was 11-v-11 – or honestly, it was probably everybody who showed up versus everybody else who showed up. We didn’t care, we were having a blast booting the ball around in the warm Colorado sun. Don’t forget, this was the first year ever in the history of Steamboat Springs youth soccer. There were no age divisions. I’m pretty sure all the boys and girls in elementary school who signed up got to play, and often at the same time. It was a blast.

Freckle-faced 20-somethings who worked as lifties in the winter helped coached the team. Apparently, a good dose of negligible ambition and marijuana made you the perfect youth soccer coach. We had our marching orders; it was time to go play Glenwood Springs.

Nothing like a 90-minute road trip for your first game ever when you are eight. Still, this was incredible news. My brother was on the team too and my sun burnt parents thought it would be super cool to travel to Glenwood Springs – home of the big pool. I made my dad promise that he would buy me a special present if I actually scored a goal.

Upon arriving in Glenwood, we realized that we had something in common with the kids from this part of Colorado: None of us knew what were were doing. The game was to be played on the high school field. Now, this was actually a good news, bad news scenario. The good news was the field was so big, the likelihood of the ball actually going out of bounds was slim. The bad news was the chance to actually move the ball all the way down the field for a shot on net was equally slim. The game started – I think it may have been 15-v-12 – and there were no whistles for anything. I’m pretty sure I saw a kid pick up the ball and run with it – ahh yes, football!

After the first half, the score was deadlocked at that all too familiar soccer score – nil, nil. We ate a bunch of orange slices and the hippies who were coaching us may have said something about trying to score. Shoot, they may have been talking about going skinny-dipping in the huge pool down the street; I don’t know.

They had me play up at forward as the second half began. Don’t forget, I had the most experience.

As I type this, my mind now wanders into a bit of a blur. I mean when you score the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl, do you really remember all the details? I remember getting the ball at my feet and just dribbling forward. For whatever miraculous reason, nobody got in my way. I was going through the Glenwood Springs defenders like they were Swiss cheese! Suddenly I found myself standing right in front of the net.

OH MY GOD. Is this really happening?

A terrified, waif-like figure with oversized gloves stood in front of the goal. Man, I was gonna make her eat my shot! With all the force I could muster, I fired the ball towards the back of the net. The only problem was I actually kicked a large clump of dirt in front of the ball that totally screwed up my shot. It wasn’t a knuckling ripper; it was a dawdling dripper. But there was just enough steam on the shot that that the ball went forward, and to my amazement – and I’m sure the amazement of every pot-smoking coach and wanderlust parent in attendance – the ball went right under the goalie’s belly for the one and only goal of the game.

I’m not sure where they keep the record books of the Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association. I’ve been back often and haven’t seen a statue in Steamboat or Glenwood. But I assure you, I hold the first goal ever recorded.

After that I was hooked.

I always wanted to play football, but there was always something getting in the way – mostly my puny size. After a while, I really didn’t care that I wasn’t playing football. Sure, we soccer players took a bit of a ribbing from our football friends in high school, but it was no big deal. We were really good and they were awful. We were always sniffing around the state playoffs with dramatic wins and losses while my gridiron brethren were just sniffing back tears.

I had a great run in soccer. I scored a ton of goals. I played varsity as a sophomore. I was a captain my senior year. I worked a soccer camp at Phillips Andover Academy for a couple of summers and my best friend growing up was my coach. I’m still buddies with him to this day. I actually considered walking on to the Syracuse soccer team when I went to college, but quickly realized that talking about sports (not playing them) was my true future.

I played soccer as an adult on some good indoor teams and some horrible indoor teams. I ended up coaching both my kids in soccer until they decided that hockey and wrestling were more interesting.

While my true passion was always baseball, I have no problem labeling myself as a soccer guy.

Ironically, the director of the Aurora Youth Soccer Association once owned the house I now live in. I have been to a ton of Rapids games, but I get bored to tears watching soccer on TV. I was an All-Star player in high school, but you would have to put a gun to my head to make me watch a non-U.S. team play in the World Cup. I led my team in scoring my junior and senior years of high school, but I have as much interest in Messi as I do in macramé.

I think you can define yourself as a soccer guy in many different forms. When I see a bunch of drunkards at Fado’s screaming for Team USA versus Ghana during World Cup season, I’m pretty sure they haven’t actually played soccer as much as they love drinking. I gave my heart and soul to the Beautiful Game, because back in the day, they didn’t let you play baseball year round.

I think soccer guy and football guy aren’t all that different. I think making fun of the soccer gear and shorty-shorts is passé. We absolutely live in a world where the two can co-exist peacefully – mostly because ESPN bought the soccer rights for a billion dollars, and they love shoving it down our throats every day.

I’m proud to be a soccer guy. That being said, you know what that special present was that I asked my dad to buy me if I scored a goal?

A Nerf football.