Sunday, January 07, 2007

Buttonhook Right On Three. Your Shoelace Is Untied.

I never played organized football. I was skinny and contemplative, and it never occurred to anyone involved, me included, to even try. But we used to play all the time.

It was like this, in that there were never enough people to make a full team, never mind two. In extremis, the quarterback had to hike the ball to himself. We actually made the fellow turn perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, and toss the ball up in the air and catch it again before he ran or threw it. Hilarious. I remember Danny, one of my friends, hiking the ball to himself; throwing the ball up in the air after receiving his own snap; running underneath his own wild heave of a pass and catching it; then like a final, magnificent capstone to his herculean if bizarre effort, tackling himself by putting his foot in a ground hog hole while picking his way through the cowflaps and tacklers, falling face first into the pasture grass.

I'd pay ten dollars to see it again, but it's free in my head, and unavailable at any price elsewhere.

The ball often had the bladder bulging out of one or more of the seams or the lacings. To this day, I see professional players throw those marvelous spirals, the camera capturing it revolving slowly as it sails into the galloping wide receiver's hands, and all I can think is: That's a nice ball.

We didn't have any equipment whatsoever. We got smart after a while and wore a half dozen coats or sweaters for the padding, and after the first time being excoriated by your mother for tearing a pocket off the only winter coat you were going to get that year, you learned to put the crummiest garment on the outside.

Once a kind cousin who had become a man and abandoned childish things gave my father his old shoulder pads. My father gave them to me with a straight face. I bet after I skipped elated out of the room with them, his laughter began -- and will echo down through the eons like some second big bang. I wore them outside my clothes, the dense fiberglas flaps clacking as I ran and pinching the opponents' fingers when they tackled me. It is hard to come up with a tableaux more absurd. I must have looked like some insane earthbound Icarus trying to get lift as I ran.

We'd butt heads like rams with our preteen nubbins, bloody our noses and rend our garments literally --figuratively if we were losing, and had a grand time.

The football game is on today, but I am a man now and must work. I will tune it in on the AM radio to carry me along as I bang on my work like a blind cobbler's thumb. Don't matter. The faraway crackling descriptions will be better than being there, or that marvelous fraudulent stand-in for being there, the TV.

It will be better because I will see it in my mind's eye, imagination trumping reality every time, just the same way it did, stumbling and clacking and flapping across Miller's field all those years ago.

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