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Posts Tagged ‘football’

Time Out

July 10, 2012 | by

Late in the third quarter of a blowout loss at North Torrance High School my junior year I woke up in a blurry huddle. Grids of stadium lighting were smeared on the South Bay night sky as if they’d been moved before they dried. My teammates stood around me in their away whites, the sateen jerseys looking smudged and shabby in the dark. I shouldn’t have been surprised if a star suddenly dilated just to wink at me, such was my loopy state of mind—and my self-regard as a high school quarterback.

A timeout had been called, apparently. There was no apparent rush to get back to the line of scrimmage, run another play. And our coach was in the huddle with us. Oh, thank god, I thought, Coach is playing. I’d never seen him in uniform before, but didn’t think to question it—we needed all the help we could get. Though, standing next to the star receiver with whom he’d traded outfits, he did look a lot taller than normal.

Reassuring counsel was given by someone, maybe me, as we gathered ourselves to go back on.

We settled on a simple play: everyone run as far as you can as fast as you can, and I’ll throw the ball to one of you, ready, break. I stepped under center in a kind of euphoria, took the snap, dropped back and threw our coach—or, rather, the receiver onto whom I’d transposed Coach’s face—a forty-two-yard touchdown, and walked off the field, vindicated and giggling.

A blink and it was two hours later. Read More »

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Texas Forever

July 21, 2011 | by

I am not Tim Riggins, and never will be.

I’m a Reagan baby, a product of recession, later reared in the economically secure Clinton nineties, in a McMansioned suburb of the Eastern Seaboard. Our athletes—statuesque Celtics and  sinewy Red Sox—were billboarded, televised, and extra-life-sized for us to admire as we turned into populist fist-pumpers in the soft reflection of our screens.

My own sports career ended at fifteen, soon after my discoveries of breasts and marijuana—plus, my post-pubic body’s physiological rejection of the command, “Run laps.” I attended a large public high school known for its high rate of acceptance into Harvard and for its unattractive cheerleaders. Once, at a basketball game, a rival school’s fans chanted “Who Let the Dogs Out” when our Lady-Lions took the court.

Still, one makes do. When it comes to social strata in American public schools, life has no choice but to imitate, if not art, then at least John Hughes movies. Our football players held the top position in the high school hierarchy. They wore jerseys over ties on game day, took Creatine, shotgunned beers, spoke with put-on Boston accents. Sensitive stoners like me hung girl-less at the edge of the party, colluding in the mass self-delusion that this was a football team, that this was a party.

I watched Friday Night Lights for the first time four years ago in my New York apartment, bedridden by the idiocy of avoiding a flu shot. Some cable channel had the first season on marathon so that sick boys like myself could feel the pull of pigskin, forget our ailing, gene-weak bodies amidst the rush of Panther pride and the belief that no woman in a million years will ever out-MILF Ms. Tami Taylor, aka Mrs. Coach, the strong-willed and substantially cleavaged matriarch at the heart of the show.

Which is all to say: When I lie in bed at night and imagine white-bearded God making his earthly presence known at the foot of my futon, he asks, “And what is your deepest desire, young man?” I say, “Lord of all things, king of the universe, purveyor of rain, and pain, and occasional love, would you be so kind as to turn me into Tim Riggins?”

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Finding My Chicago

October 27, 2010 | by

Living in McAllen, Texas, I used to binge on old episodes of Friday Night Lights.

The year I lived and taught high school in Texas—June 2009 to June 2010—I watched Friday Night Lights. The fourth season was airing, and it was, satisfyingly, thematically pegged to my life. Coach Taylor, no longer head of the Panthers, was putting together a team from scratch. His players were unschooled in the rudiments of football; many of my students were unschooled in the rudiments of English. He struggled to regain his players’ respect after forfeiting the first game of the season; I struggled to regain my students’ respect after crying in front of them. Many of his players lived on the wrong side of the tracks; some of my students lived on the wrong side of the border. There was a fundamental difference though: He knew what he was doing, and I did not.

Coach Taylor is not just a football coach; he is a “molder of men.” I was more like the young teacher played by Austin Nichols who shows up in season two just long enough to give Julie a copy of The World According to Garp and then get yelled at by her mother. I was twenty-two, fresh out of college. I was hardly molded myself.

I was living in McAllen, a booming border town, where I taught English II and ESL to high-school students. My twenty sophomores couldn’t, for the most part, read on grade level, but they could read. Though I struggled to teach them, for example, how to identify the tone and theme of a text, how to parse how each was constructed, and what purpose each served, I could at least be sure that they understood the words coming out of my mouth. This was by no means true in my two ESL classes. I was supposed to be preparing my students for the state-mandated ninth-grade English exam—though it didn’t go very far beyond reading comprehension, it was nonetheless challenging for students who didn’t read English—but reading in class was time consuming and frustrating for everyone involved. Mostly we memorized basic vocabulary words and conjugated verbs.

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The Saddest Man in Professional Football

September 27, 2010 | by

Photograph by Cliff.

My love for Brett Favre—it was always Favre, and only incidentally his team, that I loved—made me something of an oddity in Northern California. “What a bum,” my grandfather, a 49ers fan, would grumble, examining my first serious crush. “The man can’t even shave for Monday Night Football.” This was true. Favre’s manly scruff was a trait I found charming as a child, seductive as a teenager, and slightly depressing as a young adult.

It’s also the key to his allure. Brett Favre can play perfectly without being perfect. He has—still—one of the best arms the NFL has ever seen, but he isn’t a Tom Brady touchdown-making machine. He’s not a robot from the Manning factory. He’s just a guy, trying to do his job, who often forgets to shave in the morning. He’s played hurt, he’s played sad, he’s played bearded, and yes, he’s played terribly.

In fact, how terribly he sometimes plays is part of the magic. In the early days, with the Packers, he would throw four interceptions in the first half, come back in the third quarter with a few well-placed passes to put the Pack within six, and then, with thirty-five seconds left on the clock in the fourth, he would go into the no-huddle offense, calling audibles just before the snap, sneaking forty-yard completions into double coverage, emerging breathless, victorious, arms raised. Even then, his heart was more powerful than his body.

But after a heartbreaking NFC Championship loss to the Giants in the winter of 2007, a game essentially ended by an interception (last-minute interceptions had, by that point, replaced his Hail Mary completions), even I knew it was time for him to retire. I also knew that he wouldn’t be able to until he had made it back to the Super Bowl. Favre has one Super Bowl ring, which he won in 1996, as a shaggy-haired twenty-seven-year-old. He took the Packers back the following year, but they lost. He spent the next decade trying to prove that victory wasn’t a fluke, but with close of the 2007 game, he had squandered his last chance.

We both cried when he announced his retirement. And when he changed his mind, it was tempting, given my emotional investment, to feel betrayed. It seemed like a classically cocky move from an aging athlete who didn’t know when to quit. But it wasn’t.

Most people know when it’s time to retire. At thirty-eight, Brett Favre had just given up the one thing he had likely been perfecting since he was an impressionable eight-year-old. He was a confused middle-aged man doing one of the most pathetic, desperate, moving things a human being can do. He was a guy begging for a second chance. He was the saddest man in professional football.

When Favre pleaded with the Packers to take him back, detractors focused on Aaron Rodgers, Favre’s backup, who was ready to be QB1. But Rodgers is young—only twenty-six. He has seasons to prove himself; Favre doesn't. And though more than a decade older, Favre is still the better quarterback, still better than most quarterbacks. Last year he led the Vikings to the NFC conference game. He threw an interception in the last seconds of the fourth quarter, and his team lost. I cried because, at this point, watching Brett Favre play football may be the only thing sadder than being Brett Favre. Every loss is proof that desire gets you less than ten yards. Every completion, every victory reminds me of his tearful pleas, even as he makes good on their inherent promises. He is asking for just one more season, one more game, one more chance. And because he’s still good enough, because his heart aches for redemption so badly it (almost) trumps logic, physics, and modern medicine, I am still saying yes.

Editor’s note: This post originally stated that Brett Favre threw an interception in overtime in the 2009 NFC Championship game. We regret the error.

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Zero Hour in South Africa

July 9, 2010 | by

There are two games left. The third place playoff takes place on Saturday, Uruguay against Germany in a game often described as one nobody wants to play in. It can be well worth watching though—teams have been known to forget about tactics and play with something approximating wild abandon, which in this World Cup will come as some relief.

Then on Sunday, it’s Spain against Holland; one of two favorites going into the tournament against the perennially-highly-fancied World Cup bridesmaids. Neither team has won it before, so whichever way it goes, there will be a new name on the list. It will be the first time a European team has won in another continent, a particular triumph for Old Europe, after the continent as a whole was dismissed following the group round, the commentators agreeing that the new champion would inevitably come from Latin America.

Both teams play the same formation, the 4-2-3-1 that uses the holding midfielders to prevent the other team from attacking. But oh, they do it so differently. Holland plays with two thugs there, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong to break up the attack and to do so by any means necessary or at least invisible. Once they have won possession, their only job — one they do very well — is to give the ball to Wesley Sneidjer, the conductor of the Dutch attack.

The leader of the pair is Van Bommel, who has managed to somehow commit 14 fouls, some of them proper horrors, whilst only getting one yellow card for dissent. Over the course of the tournament, Van Bommel’s star has risen in exact relationship to the amount of opprobrium heaped on him by fans. He is nasty, sly, always the first to complain to the ref about some perceived injury done to him—quite often when he was the one dishing out the punishment rather than the other way around. There is something reptilian about him; nasty eyes and an absolutely massive jaw. Without him the Dutch would never have gotten this far; he is a beast. Read More »

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And Then We Came to the End

July 9, 2010 | by

In the World Cup, as in any tournament, half of the field is eliminated in the first round, and half again in each succeeding round—a method of crowning a champion devised by Zeno and guaranteed to bring the whole thrilling spectacle to a buyer’s-remorse anticlimax. (You can see the diminishing interest in the now-trickling coverage in outlets both mainstream and semi-pro.) Whichever second-rate European nation triumphs on Sunday—if they can control the midfield as smugly as they did against Germany in Wednesday’s semifinal it will surely be Spain—will look a lot less truly top-dog than simply last-man-standing.

In his Winner-Take-All Society, the academic Robert Frank famously described the American economy as such a tournament, devoted to the production of champions at the expense of the welfare of many many losers; in South Africa this summer we will have thirty-one of them to one likely-uninspiring winner, a fairly devastating ratio. But it’s not only the partisans of those thirty-one countries that’ll be left bewildered, wondering what might have been, all the rest of us will, too, indeed anyone who paid any attention to the opening of the tournament and its round-the-clock stream of giddy action and deluded, infinite-horizon expectation. The games played in those early days were often stilted by deliberative tactics, player caution, and coaching prudence, and their outcomes were rarely decisive. But they embodied what another academic, Barry Schwartz, might’ve called the paradox of chance—we want each game to contain all the possibilities and promise of the entire cup, to unfold as though the shape and character of the whole month-long tournament hangs completely on its outcome, but we don’t want any particular result to disclose the possibility of any other. On this score a tournament is designed to disappoint. But those early games offer, always, the best of both worlds, yielding perhaps less quality of play than the contests that follow but making up for it, many times over, in volume. Or, as I like to call it, abundance.

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