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Posts Tagged ‘football’

MacDonald Played Football for My Cousin’s High School Team

March 12, 2014 | by

The third of five vignettes.

Landscape

Photo: David Falconer

I played football against him, and I saw him not only at the games, but at the various league events. And I saw him at my cousin’s school banquets, open houses, graduations. He was the captain of their football team, the president of their student council and their student class; he was the recipient of various league honors whose names escape me, but, I believe, had to do with Most Sportsmanlike, and so on. I saw him suffer through this adulation as a young black man in a white community.

His high school coach cried when praising him at the league’s year-end banquet, and I am sure, though I do not remember, that many of the parents’ generation were moved to mistiness at his valedictory speech. It may have been a good speech, or it may not have, but the half remembered or imagined emotion on the audience’s part must have been mixed relief and self-congratulation; relief at the first hint, in their world, of the end of racism, and self-congratulation at their (imaginary) part in the correction. How could it be otherwise? It could not. Who was harmed? No one except Bill MacDonald, who was the victim of the good-willed farce. Read More »

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The Sportsman’s Code of Chivalry

February 2, 2014 | by

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Two Sundays ago, I watched the AFC Conference game with some friends. Picture a Venn Diagram; label one circle “Fans of the New England Patriots” and the other “People Who Have Studied Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The person who exists at the intersection of those two circles was sitting on a couch across from me, anxiously eating chips and guacamole. As the Patriots slipped further and further behind the Broncos, talk turned to Arthurian legend, and to knightliness at large.

Peyton Manning, our group quickly agreed, was the Lancelot of quarterbacks. Like Lancelot, he’s unquestionably the most talented of his cadre—a fact confirmed when he was, to no one’s surprise, named this year’s league MVP. He’s also, like Lancelot, doltish and unbeautiful: in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, Lancelot is, to quote King Arthur, “the ugliest man I have ever seen”; Peyton can’t claim that honor, but he does have a grotesquely large forehead, scarred by the Riddell helmet he is forced to squeeze over it. And both Lancelot and Peyton are doomed to be surpassed by a dim younger relative—in the former’s case, it’s the unbearably pure Galahad, Lancelot’s son, the only knight allowed to glimpse the Holy Grail; in Peyton’s case, it’s his younger brother, Eli, whose childishly transparent expressions of disappointment have been turned into exemplars of gif art, and who already has two Super Bowl rings to Peyton’s one. Which made Tom Brady his Tristan: not quite as skilled, but achingly handsome.

Metaphors aside, there is a sort of gallantry we expect from our athletes. NFL players do not, of course, swear their troth to a code of chivalry; nevertheless there are rules, largely unspoken, to which professional athletes are expected to adhere. Off the field, if not on, while speaking to the press, if not while concussing one another, we want our athletes, like our knights, “to refrain from the wanton giving of offense”; “to eschew unfairness, meanness, and deceit”; and “to live by honor and for glory.” Read More »

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Off the Grid

June 13, 2013 | by

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As they do every year, the prestigious Cal Hi Sports magazine, an influential prognosticator for gridiron talent, made a list in 1994 of the top prep quarterbacks on the West Coast. Among them were Kevin Feterik at Los Alamitos, who would end up starring for QB-haven BYU; Cade McNown, a lefty from Oregon who later stewarded UCLA’s mini-dynasty; Brock Huard from Puyallup, Washington, who started as a freshman for the University of Washington and is now an ESPN analyst; a Michigan-bound senior from San Mateo named Tom Brady; and me.

At Beverly Hills High School I was that Johnny B. Goode character with “Golden Boy” sewn into the back of my letterman jacket. My favorite t-shirt read “Football is Life, the rest is just details,” and that was an understatement. I wasn’t the fastest or strongest kid, and, with my frame (6’1”), I’d never be considered anything but tiny at the college level, so I determined to be the smartest player in the game. And I studied like a Manning, becoming a geek of the game, a savant who could quote you strings of statistics like a cabalist. In contrast, the only thing I remember from my actual classes at the time is a sign one teacher had mounted near the clock in their room. It read: “Clock watchers, time will pass, will you?” I did, but barely. My devotion to the game was total.

So when, five years later, six months after quitting football for the second and final time, I woke up on a park bench in Berlin with no map, and no itinerary, I had no idea who I was.

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The Poetics of Football

February 1, 2013 | by

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I grew up outside Boston, a resident of Red Sox Nation, but mine was not a sports-loving household. My father watches football regularly these days, but he didn’t when I was a kid. He’d watch a game if it was on, distractedly, while doing something else. The rest of us did not. We didn’t follow game schedules or scores. I’ve never been to Fenway Park, though my middle school was less than a mile from the Green Monster. When they tore down Boston Garden I expressed manufactured dismay—I’d never been there either. Until I moved to Chicago after college and bought tickets to a few Cubs games on the cheap, at a yard sale, the only professional sporting event I’d ever attended was an early round of the 1994 World Cup—South Korea versus Bolivia—which ended in a tied shutout.

 My sister and I played soccer. She was better than me. I figure skated and entertained deluded fantasies of making it to the Olympics, but I couldn’t get any height on my jumps and my spins were too loose and wobbly. Eventually I switched to ice hockey, which I played with the same poor-to-barely-adequate ability as each of my prior athletic endeavors. In college I spent a week on the women’s rugby team before quitting because it hurt. Read More »

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Offsides, Part 2

January 24, 2013 | by

Jelena Tomašević, Joy of Life, 2006, mixed media, 22.3 in. x 33.2 in. © conrads duesseldorf.

This is the second installment of a multiple-part post. Read part 1 here.

Like Savićević, the Croatian Zlatko Kranjčar, fifty-six, had been a successful, offensive-minded player in his day, and one who understood the importance of international soccer. Nearing the end of his career in 1990 at the age of thirty-four, Kranjčar captained Croatia’s first national game of its post-Yugoslavia era. As a coach he led the Croatian national team into the 2006 World Cup. He had experience, and a lot of it. When Savićević hired him in 2010 as Montenegro’s new manager, it was Kranjcar’s eighteenth year of coaching and his twentieth job.

Also like Savićević, Kranjčar had historically favored an attacking style of play, one that resembled the Yugoslavian teams of Montenegro’s past. “The former Yugoslav players have the reputation as the Brazilians of Europe,” said soccer journalist and Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper. At first glance, the Montenegro team appeared to be no different. Its two star players were strikers: Vučinić, the team captain, and Stevan Jovetić, who also plays in Italy, for Fiorentina. Read More »

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Dallas, Part 2: Up Close

November 22, 2012 | by

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. With all eyes on Dallas, it seemed fitting to re-run one of our favorite pieces from 2012, an ode to the city and its complicated legacy.

[Read part 1 here.]

Have you ever seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night?

Dallas is a jewel, Dallas is a beautiful sight.

And Dallas is a jungle, but Dallas gives a beautiful light.

—Jimmie Dale Gilmore, from the song “Dallas”

From a Boeing 737 on a sparkling fall day, Dallas looks like a patchwork of mottled greens and browns, the ground more rich and loamy than withered and sere, as if the coming winter were just nature’s way of winking. The lakes are murky, the land billiard-table flat, laced with former wagon trails that have now become thoroughfares. Approaching the city, cloned suburban houses sprout in rows that curl and stretch with predetermined whimsy, the pools, tennis courts, and golf courses popping up at neat intervals. Divided expressways thread through the map, the roads laden with cars, pickups, motorcycles, and semis all going, going, going, even on a Sunday, even on a football Sunday.

I am flying into Love Field, an airport that has served Dallas since 1917, when the army named the flying field after First Lieutenant Moss Lee Love, who crashed and died in his Type C Wright pusher biplane four years earlier. Kennedy landed at Love Field at 11:37 A.M. on November 22, 1963. It is a Texas State Historical Site. I am flying into history.

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