Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gridiron Memories

Watching all these NFL playoff games has made me nostalgic about my own adventures on and off the old gridiron, none remotely illustrious, but several indelible.

I was a timid kid who longed for nothing more than to be like other boys, but seemed to lack all the usual masculine attributes. I was mechanically inept, and neither good at knots nor interested in becoming better. (Or maybe my complete lack of confidence in becoming better was what inspired me to feign disinterest.) I wasn’t a Boy or Cub Scout. I'd never went camping. Unlike my neighborhood's alpha boys, I didn’t like running over lizards on my bicycle, making all their internal organs squirt out.

But one day when I was 10, I played tackle football on the beach near where I lived, and sustained a very bloody nose — without crying! God, was I proud; I felt like a real boy! “I just had a little agreement with Kenny Woodruff,” I was able to explain laconically, shrugging, when Mom nearly fainted at the sight of me.

On day in PE when I was in the eighth grade, I somehow managed to talk my way into playing quarterback. On my first play from scrimmage, the other team put on a ferocious rush. Panicking, I just heaved the ball over their heads with all my might and hoped for the best. And got it; our team’s fastest player had somehow managed to run under the ball, and then into the end zone. A touchdown pass!

At 14, I was on the ninth grade all-star football team at Orville Wright Junior High School — not because I was any good, or even big (I was the third smallest boy in the whole ninth grade), but because inclusion was a reward for perfect attendance in after-school intramural sports. My presence was an outrage to the bona fide jocks on the team, but in practice one afternoon, the coach actually let me go out for a couple of passes, and damned if I didn’t make a remarkable diving catch of the second, inspiring my teammates to quit for at least five minutes trying to harass me into quitting.

I remained pint-sized in 10th grade, my prevailing gridiron memory from which is lining up in PE across from a black kid with biceps as big around as my head, and a Sonny Listen glower. I thought he might kill me, but he only swatted me aside like a papier mache sculpture on his way to the quarterback, whom he seemed to take great pleasure in knocking halfway down to the beach, “touch” be damned. Our instructor, a sadist, as all male PE teachers are, cackled delightedly before imparting that most time-honored of PE teacher suggestions to the moaning quarterback: Shake it off.

At college, noting my long (for the time) hair and (very slightly) outlandish attire, the football team called me a faggot. My girlfriend urged me to ignore them. She didn’t have to do a lot of urging. I wasn’t really a lover, rather than a fighter, but certainly much more the former than the latter. I was much more just about anything — a trapeze artist, a test pilot, a quantum physicist — than the latter.

My first major adult life partner and I used to enjoy watching televised football games. She enjoyed rooting against the Los Angeles Rams because star receiver Lance Rentzel had been busted for exposing himself to little girls. We both used to enjoy watching those little guys who stands on the sidelines holding a yardage marker drop them in terror when a player hurtled their way. We also used to enjoy seeing photographers and others knocked sprawling.

While researching my ultimately quashed biography of David Geffen 19 years ago, I carried a walking stick just in case the great man, known to be undelighted by my efforts, dispatched a team of goons to disappear me. When I explained that the stick was to do with an old football injury, one of the very few record biz types who'd agreed to an interview snickered, "Somehow you don't strike me as the football type." I nearly hit him with my purse.

Having had my shoulder replaced 14 years ago, I can no longer heave a football, or anything else, for that matter, except underhand. There have been lefthanded star quarterbacks in the NFL, but never an underhander. Yet another career choice now denied me!

[Exciting news: On Lala.com, where you can hear my new album Sorry We're Open, I am now ranked 80,573rd; next stop: stardom! Facebookers: Read more little essays and subscribe here.

No comments:

Post a Comment