The Holiday Football Game
Posted: Dec 9, 2008 11:35am ET
Every year around this time, I get together with a bunch of buddies from the neighborhood and we beat the tar out of one another.
It’s a Thanksgiving tradition, a flag football game (which, inevitably, always includes a fair share of tackling) organized by my good friend Mark. He typically recruits about 20 guys for the game, and we gather on an elementary school field on a cold day not long after Turkey Day, clad in all manner of odd outfits aimed at protecting us against both weather and injury. By the time the slugfest is over, everyone is bone-tired, but happy. The guys slake their thirst at a keg and then fire up cigars provided by yours truly.
This year included a slightly different angle, however, and its name was Andy.
I’m 40 years old, and the guys in this contest usually range from age 33 to around 43. Now Mark, who is a competitive sort, doesn’t really enjoy losing, so he stacked the deck a bit this year by bringing Andy, a coworker of his imported straight from Manhattan. I walked onto the field with my buddy Rick, and saw Andy doing a few stretches. First impressions: Andy weighs 200 pounds (OK, I can handle that, a lot of guys on the field are 200 pounders), 6 foot 3 (that’s kinda bad); and carrying, by my amateur estimates, absolutely no body fat and what can only be described as slabs of muscle on an athletic build. (Uh-oh).
And now for the truly distressing part: he’s 25 years old.
I wasn’t overly concerned at first. I warmed up as usual, stretching as much as I could to make sure I didn’t tear anything other than my pants. We traded good-natured insults. I made fun of Tim for wearing golf shoes instead of cleats. Tim, Jay and Mark dared me to try kicking off (I never will again, after what can only be described as the low-hook debacle of ‘06.) And we all expressed our thanks that Russ didn’t break out his lime-green tights.
I pulled on my hat, tried (unsuccessfully) to catch a few warm up passes from Tim, our team’s QB, then dug my cleats into the muddy gridiron to prepare for the kickoff.
Mark’s team kicked first, and they belted a beauty. I prepared to block, which is my specialty. I looked over my head, saw a teammate catch the ball, and turned to face the onslaught. Something gray and black whizzed by me at a speed I thought could only be achieved in a motorized vehicle.
What the heck was that?
Ah. That was Andy.
Tim was closer, and he tried to get a hand on him. Didn’t go so well. Down goes Tim. Andy got to our man and grabbed his flag deep in our territory.
This might be a long day.
We lined up on offense, and I was playing center. Andy lined up to my right, fist on the ground, a look of determination in his eyes. Tim said hike. Andy counted a “onemississippi/twomississippi/threemississippi” and then he was off, tearing into me and the rest of the offensive line.
Now since I’m the author of this blog, and none of you were there, I’d love to tell you that I threw Andy around the field like my old man used to toss flapjacks on a Sunday morning. But that’s not the way it happened. Andy was a different kind of player, sort of the way a Cohiba is a different cigar than a Phillies Blunt. Here’s a little idea of how tough this guy was to block: on one play, one of my teammates was trying to stop Andy and was being pushed back faster than the Dow Jones on a Friday afternoon. I got behind my teammate and started to push his shoulders, hoping that two guys could stop the Andy onslaught.
We learned a few things on that day. Andy is strong. I’m not very fast, and I’m certainly not fast enough to try to catch Rick, the opposing team’s quarterback. People can be made airborne if you shove them hard enough. And perhaps the football field isn’t the place for 40 year-olds to see just how big a difference 15 years can make.
We ended up winning the game (nice quarterbacking under pressure, Tim!) and then we got to the really important stuff: cigars and beer. I brought a mixed box for the guys, ranging from more easygoing Carlos Toraño Exodus and Rocky Patel Autumn Collection cigars to bolder Alec Bradley Tempus smokes. I also had a couple of La Flor Dominicana Cheroots, which seemed appropriate for the gritty day: I fired one up to pair with my frosty Sam Adams Winter Ale.
The damage from the day was minimal—by our standards. There was one pulled muscle (my buddy Dave; he’s taking some time off from running but will be fine) and a bloody nose (that was Russ; he’s OK now). Most of the guys are pretty achy. Mark, summing it up for everyone, wrote “it hurts to type.” Personally, my left foot feels like it was stomped by a water buffalo and my left shoulder doesn’t want to go higher than a McCain wave. And yes, I tore my pants. But I survived.
And Andy? He was well enough to go out in the city that night after the game. In fact, he didn’t look much different after the bout than he did before.
Ah, to be 25 again.
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