Just another one culled from the memory banks, a conversation with my kid and the streets of Brooklyn, New York.
Buck buck was simple game because it required almost nothing at all to play and thereby suited our parents needs just fine. There were no uniforms to buy, no equipment such as shoulder pads, helmets or mitts had to be worn and no balls that had to be inflated or retrieved The only thing you needed was a tree or a wall to lean against, a strong back for people to land on and the ability to jump pretty far. Outside of that, some tolerance for pain in the form of scraped knees and elbows could also come ni handy.
Before I get into how the game is played, our friends at Wikipedia inform me that in some circles the game is also known as “Johnny on a Pony”. Growing up in where we did, we’d have never thought of that and if we did, it’d have a different connotation entirely.
Anyway, in the neighborhood I grew up in, kids seem to congregate in groups of five or so. I don’t why that was and I don’t know if it holds true today although I have my theories. Maybe it was because we all had egos of one type or another and any number above five meant that things got too complicated. There could only be one alpha wolf in the pack and the infighting that ensued when your group got too large threatened the very survival of the group. Also, five was the perfect number to form “teams”. Since space was limited on the streets, having a full blown squad of eleven per side to play football wasn’t feasible.
Besides, when there are only five of you, nobody feels left out.
This also meant that there were a lot of groups of five in the ten or so block radius that comprised our stomping grounds. Inevitably this close grouping led to challenges of all types for bragging rights in and around the neighborhood and buck buck was just one of the many tests of skills that would state our claim to being the best.
The Tools of the Trade
Five guys, (sorry ladies, back then we were playing to impress you!) one preferably skinny to be the pillow, one preferably fat to deliver a crunching blow to our opponents and the other three with decent balance and jumping ability.
One wall or one tree for “the pillow” to lean against.
Rules of Play
Upon deciding who would jump first, one team would line up across the street and the other team would line up near the wall or the tree. The “pillow man” would then lean against the wall/tree and the other guys would bend over at the waist one at a time and form a chain by linking their arms around each other. Once the chain was formed, an individual from the rival team from across the street would run and leap onto the back of the members of the chain. The chain would have to support the jumpers until all five were onboard and then guess a number from one to three in order to reverse the circumstances. If the wrong number was guessed or the chain broke, the team that originally jumped got to jump again. Oh, if one of the jumpers lost their balance and fell off, they lost their turn and the teams positions would be switched.
It always helped to go first. The general consensus was that it was much better to be jumping on somebody than it was to be jumped on.
The next thing was to try and figure out the weakest link in the chain and put the most weight on it. This was usually the guy closest to the pillow since he wouldn’t have to bear that much weight and the fattest dude on your team probably couldn’t jump that far.
The next thing was to try and jump high and land hard. If things went just right, your ass would come crashing down right in the small of someone’s back and their cry of pain would be taken as a sign of weakness and encourage your teammates to do the same.
Usually, before the game began, the sides would agree on “inching”. If “no inching” was called, this meant that the jumping team had to stay where they landed. If “inching” was allowed, they’d be able to wriggle up to the front of the line to give their other jumpers more space to land.
Piling on. If you had a guy that could jump really high, they could feasibly land on one of their own teammates who had previously jumped and double the weight on one the members of the opposing team.
The End Game
The end came when one team either got too injured, too tired or too fed up to play anymore. The stakes usually involved a predetermined number of “moon”s in which the winners got to fling a tennis ball at the loser’s ass from pretty close range. No flinching on the part of the losers was allowed.
As a side note, I don’t know if buck buck is still played today. I know we used to play it in our schoolyard and the teachers would come out and cheer on the participants from both sides.
asked me what games we played when I was growing up and I told her about this one and asked her if she’d ever heard of it.
She gave me look like she thought I was nuts so I kinda doubt it.