Sport for Our Neighbors

Yield not to adversity but press on all the more bravely. — Virgil*

“. . . if it was a personal foul, they should have given us fifteen yards, ya know?” said the man in the hunting cap, fixated on the instant replay cycling on the stadium’s Video-tron.

“Uh . . . of course,” I nod, nearly choking on a salted pretzel. “At least.”

“They’ve been doing this too us all game,” screamed the older two-fisted drinker sitting nearby, who I took to be Elmer’s father.  “And did you see, he kneed at the five, so why place the ball at the eight?”

“Yeah, it’s crazy,” I shook my head. “They should have thrown a . . . flag. Or two?”

“Damn refs are blind, man,” Elmer sighed. “Hey, now all Rice has to do is cut across the middle while fainting to the left, slobber-knocker any interference from the D-line and sack dance across for the score.  Just like with the Navy game earlier. You guys, see that?”

“Um . . . yeah.  Crazy awesome match. Hard to forget it . . .” Panicking somewhat, I sign ‘Help!’ to Shannon, who buries his laughter in his gloves, tell-tail tears streaming from his eyes.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man attending a football game must be capable of talking about football. That he does not or rather cannot due to an absence of considerable interest or love of the game is never considered or at least so impossible a prospect that any suggestion therein precedes an altogether new line of questioning: “What are you gay or somfin,’ boy?”

Yet here I be, chimera that I am, a (profusely) non-homosexual male who knows little about the game of football and truthfully maintains only a modest curiosity about the success of my home-team. Frankly I’d rather watch a movie about football: chock-full of human interest, turbulent relationships, underdogs overcoming Olympian odds, and perhaps a half-naked Jessica Alba in a rain-soaked Ravens jersey. You don’t need to be a football fan to enjoy that.

Heterosexual and male, yeah, but not a football fan.

Growing up, I quickly realized all of the conversations between my father and his friends – outside of business – involved some ballgame or other. Long before the Ravens came to Baltimore, Marylanders spoke of a now-nonexistent hockey team, Notre Dame football, and the successes of the Orioles — as I said it was long time ago.  Frankly, I could never understand how a bunch of old men smacking around a ball could fascinate grown-ups more than a talking dog solving monster-mysteries or protecting sixteen-cubic acres of money from the Beagle Boys. Epic battles!  Good versus evil!  Treasure hunts!  Talking animals!  OR . . . old-guys tossing a ball around a field for a tin-trophy and one-year’s worth of bragging rights. Still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

I’m more of a mini-golf man, myself.

“So I heard Christopher Nolan used Pittsburg stadium for a scene for the Dark Knight Rising,” Shannon said as we’re walking to the stadium. “The batmobile came roaring onto the field, tearing up the grass. Pretty awesome, eh?”

“It would be pretty awesome if that happened here tonight,” I sigh. Free Gotham Knights T-shirts. A Danny Elfman score blaring across the loudspeakers. Lights flickering from the nose-bleeds. Joker grinning over the video display!

God, I just got chills!

“You kinda wish Jack had taken your ticket tonight, don’t you?” Shannon smiled.  One of Shannon’s mates had cancelled at the last minute in favor of homework and warm bed; thus the extra ticket for Sunday’s Ravens-Jets game fell to me.

I frowned. Truthfully, part of me wanted to stay home in the warmth of my room, soaking in the light of computer monitors, flickering with flash of gunfire and splatter of digital gore . . . yet another really longed to spend more time adventuring with the boys. So many of them have grown over the last year, no longer needing my help in physics, writing classes or even carpooling.  As their lives have become consumed by girlfriends, law schools, and rugby clubs, I’m not sure where I fit anymore in the family hierarchy.

Being out-of-work doesn’t help either, adding more insult to injury. No longer gainfully employed, I’ve been demoted from brother to bum again, and it’s hard to retain self-respect regardless of the reasons (i.e. my teaching job collapsed right after the school shut down). Yet I find myself with the rare opportunity to choose: discover a profitable passion of my own or simply implode like some hillbilly basement dweller, fusing to the upholstery with his cheese curls – what the Japanese call ‘hikikomori,’ or acute social isolation. It’s a rather upsetting scenario, any thought of which leads to many frantic hours typing my next blog post or on the basement treadmill, drowning my anxiety with endorphins.

Thus, every now and then, I leave my comfort zone and follow the boys around for a day or two, doing ‘guy-stuff.’  They keep me from going too insane . . . even if I have no clue what’s going on most of the time.

Behold, the great equalizer!

“D-did you see that?” one of the gentlemen said turning in his seat.  I had pulled up Poe’s ‘Raven’ on my Droid, a great way to pass the half if you can’t (or refuse to) hear the marching band.    Bloodshot eyes more so than his question pulled me from reverie  and I offered a nervous smile.   His eyes focused over my right shoulder as he spoke and I took a quick glance behind me before the old man continued. “Baaad call. Ref’s got shit for brains. Never touched ‘em. His hand was like . . . ”

The man stretched his arms over the railings, one hand gripping a Coors, the other an upturned bottle of Millar Lite.

“. . . this far away. Never even near the helmet.”

I could not pinpoint what the guy was referring to.  The band was only now trailing off the field.  Play had momentarily stopped for at least ten minutes.  Perhaps some replay from the first half or some half-formed complaint, slowed by alcohol, only now trickled from his nerve centers to his jaw muscles.  I looked to my brother for help, but Shannon was fixated by a brunette stretching  her legs two rows down.  Others around me cheered the start of the second half.

Te ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito.*   Okay Murph, fake it.

“Um, yeah. Ref’s are kinda flag-happy tonight. Probably have quotas, you know,” I suggested helpfully.  “Like police officers and speeding tickets, they have to wave that towel a dozen times per game. Else they get fired or . . . or flogged.”  For some reason, I began imagining 16th century British navy ships, where a single unfastened button could earn a sailor thirty lashes.

Shannon, who had suddenly reappeared, soundlessly mouthing “What the hell . . ?” but my new friend doubled over in his seat, snorting.

“Right. Riiight!” he choked, beer trickling from his nose. “I like you, man. You got this game pegged! They do flog like bastards.”

I started to correct him, but thought better of it. The Raven’s defense had emerged onto the field after an interception and seventy-three yard touchdown. The stadium erupted with excitement. Everyone jumped from their seats, screaming and singing. Shannon pounded his fist in the air. The guys in front roared over the railing until the faces turned blue. The energy was addictive. I found myself shouted “Homerun! Homerun!” until my voice grew hoarse, and no one — not even the Jets fans — uttered a single word of criticism.

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5 thoughts on “Sport for Our Neighbors

  1. I thought that all men understood and at least liked watching, if not playing, all the different forms of football. I’ve never understood the attraction. However, as they are all supposed to have been war games originally, the ball being an enemy’s head, I thought that warrior-like sentiments were responsible. Being female, and holding war in abhorrence, any form of football is uninteresting to me. I am very pleased to find that at least one male on the planet shares my disinterest. Do you think that there are any others? This could be the start of a trend.

  2. Truthfully, it’s the noticeable absence of a quality story that fails to draw me in, more so than the combat itself. Tom Hanks’ Road to Perdition and Russel Crowe’s Gladiator succeed because the struggles of the warrior are woven in a greater storyline: the relationship between a father and son or the fate of an ancient nation. The brutality therefore retains meaning and consequence.

    Yet guys are not alone in this, I think. Even reputed ‘Chick-fiction’ have their share of warfare. Elizabeth and Lady Catherine’s battle of wills in Pride and Prejudice is the culmination in a novel filled with minor skirmishes. The fact that these are wars of words does not minimize their impact. Some of the best and most engaging comic books I own manifest the character’s life or death struggle over the exchange of a few choice phrases.

    And thus, football and other sports fail to capture my imagination and emotions more so than anything else. I’m not given a reason to care beyond ‘They’re your hometeam!’ I’ll pass up the gridiron for Britain’s great consulting detective any day of the week. If that makes me unmanly — or worse unpatriotic — so be it.

  3. You’re a writer. You need a plot. Or, at the very least, some human interest background. Sounds normal to me. Battles only make sense when they have a context. The problem is that a lot of people just like watching other people get hurt. Nothing noble about that. American football “warriors” wear a lot of protectiive gear. Australian ones don’t. We haven’t yet started introducing (real) lions onto the football field but the atmosphere often smacks of Ancient Rome. I find it rather disturbing.

  4. My brothers play club rugby here in the States. Awful game to watch even in the high school circuit. Too much chaos for my taste; after fifteen minutes, I’ve relinquished all efforts to divine the rules. And then the injuries . . . Shannon alone received more concussions from one rugby match than in his entire football career. The boy just shrugs it off too like the Black Knight in that Monty Python movie. Got real upset at his coach whenever he got benched for losing consciousness. He’d scream, rave . . . jump in the coach’s face, and after a minute fall over again in a daze. It’d be funny as hell if . . . well, you know,the whole permanent-brain-injury-thing. Crazy git.

  5. Football organizations over here have finally realized that repeated concussions lead to permanent brain damage. Some players have been banned from playing after a certain number of them, even though they say that they are all right. Then there are the repeated surgical operations on other bits and pieces of the body, until a player has to admit that, if he wants to stay out of a wheelchair, he has to retire. By that time, not only has his body given up, his brain is in trouble too, and he has trouble finding a different job. Massive doses of alcohol don’t help, either. Weird people footballers.

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