It was a great day, that Saturday, June 23, 2007. It was a great day in the world of neighborhood sport.
We chose to warm up in the park by selecting a football, a frisbee, a fin-tailed football product named The Vortex, two trac-ball claws and ball, and a cheap Walmart version of The Vortex which did not make the fun whistling noise that The Vortex did, and then to non-commitally long-distance throw all of them between us group of six men, catching whichever came near and throwing it somewhere away, in a cloud of childish intemperance and hyperactivity that reached across the entire city block span of the park.
But when we were ready, ma'am and sir, we were ready.
We selected our three-man football teams. Ah, the rivalry was to have a regional tinge, with myself and two old friends from St. Cloud versus three young guys from the city that played in some up-and-coming bands in town. We were none of us physically fit to be doing this.
Our team's advantages should have been obvious:
Myself, I was an accomplished passer, as proven with my clutch long-range passing in our victory last fall against some random teenaged guys in a park. Plus, I daresay I call a pretty devilish play.
John K, also a great passer. Light and nimble, you can also expect him to catch a pass and then be able to do something with it. His intense trash talk will always be a phsychological advantage.
Evan B, the Speedmobile. That's his name now. Motherfucker can run like the galloping breeze! A halfback in highschool ball, it was still there within him somewhere beneath all the sadist neglect.
We played three guys who were a phenominal drummer, a phenominal guitarist, and a phenominal songwriter. Though the drummer was also a specimen of prowess and the songwriter had decent speed, they could nay pass nay catch to save their beach furniture from a hurricane.
Rules: Two-hand touch. A subjective 1st down at half field. Use of The Vortex football instead of the traditional. Blitzes must come at the count of 5-Vortex. First team to score thrice wins.
Opponents kick off. Return is bobbled, and we start with poor field position. Bear in mind, I am wearing sandals, so I am passing. John and Evan line up on either side. It is our first play, and I say hike. Immediately I notice that John, running a streak pattern straight out like a dart, has left his guitarist defender behind by at least two strides. In that moment, I do not throw... It throw all by itself. The Vortex whines like a mortar. 20 yards downfield, it descends into the cradle of John's arms. He continues running straight to the other side of the field. Touchdown. We have been playing for exactly 42.8 seconds.
Our opponents' return drive begins with some steam as a number of short passes are completed, but they eventually lose coordination and turn the ball over on downs at midfield.
With a similar West Coast offensive strategy, we duel back to within 20 yards of the Promised Land. In that moment, I drifted back to my Legends of Lambeau Field DVD (though I am a Vikings fan, I respect the Packer heritage), and I recalled the famous Packer Sweep play. I call a sweep run to the right with John and I blocking for Evan. Hike. John hands off the ball while I block out of the backfield. Before I can react, though, the spry songwriter slips around me and nears Evan from behind. However, Evan senses the approaching danger, and I watch as his eyes tranform into wide, fierce orbs. And in that instant, he accelerates, drawing energy from God knows what past game trauma, and pulls away from his gasping pursuer. John's blocks up ahead leave Evan with the daylight, and yes, he bounds in for score number two. Then he falls to the ground and lays there for five minutes.
The next 30 seconds are a blur. But damn it if we didn't kick off (by throwing The Vortex really far and yelling VORTEX!) and that ball came right back in the hands of the songwriter. Like I said, he was pretty quick too. Drummer and guitarist laid down a nice lane of blocks, then songwriter simply sidestepped flip-flop-footed me, and like that, a touchdown stood in their box score.
This situation only soured further when our following offensive drive stalled near the 50 yard line.
It was a tooth-and-nail battle, but our opponents drove back to within 10 yards of their endzone. The score was 2 to 1. They were at fourth down. They did the unthinkable. Frustrated with their lack of throwing productivity, quarterback guitarist hiked the ball that fourth down, dropped back, and then simply followed his songwriter "lineman" right into the endzone, evading both Evan and John in the process, while I stared, horrified, from the other side of the field.
2 - 2.
I would like to reflect here that success on the game field truly does translate to real pride and glory out here in the real world. You win there... well, you're pretty much a winner everywhere. There's no one who can really touch you, in both a psychological and a legal way. Victorious is truly the resplendant disposition.
But everyone gets their exercise.
We are tied 2 - 2. There has been a substitution: John has begun to bubble up some of his hamburger and salsa from our barbecue meal across the street, and needs to sit down before he has a bodily incident. As his replacement we get Pete. Pete is basically your All-American man. He stands around six feet. Probably weighs in at around 170. He's cultured, intelligent, decently strong, decently spry. We were glad to have him for the drive. Once again, we bobble our kickoff return (totally my fault) and have to start with only modest field position.
The first play seems to harken back to the first pass of the game, the one which went all the way for a touchdown. Evan and Pete sprint out as receivers. I eye them both, then see Pete accelerating straight ahead, about to break away. However, he is not yet looking at me. Still, without hesitation, my mind takes the gamble, and my hand sends up the most beautifully timed and executed throw I have done since threading two defenders for a long touchdown back in our victory against 14-year-olds the previous fall. The Vortex shrieks above, but Pete looks up too late. The ball deflects off of his right shoulder. Puffing, our opponents admit openly that they had just dodged an immaculate bullet, and all take a moment to praise my throwing skill. Thanks.
But none of that praise was gonna get us the score. We needed MAGIC. The next two downs: no magic. Incompletions dwindle us down to fourth down. However, we were not far from our mid-field first down. I call a pass play where Evan will run an out route, hopefully getting enough room for the first down. We step to the line, steely, grim, poised. Our opponents shuffle and grunt like Visigoths.
Hike. The play takes form ahead of me. Pete is drawing one defender far downfield to the left. Evan, bless him, is breaking open to the right about ten yards ahead just as required. I send him the ball. The Vortex whistles. It snaps silent in his steel trap hands. The entire park goes silent.
The songwriter is fast, but not fast enough for Evan. He fails to get two hands on him immediately after the catch. Now Evan has open field to run. The guitarist attempts to scramble from center field, but there is no hope. That's Speedmobile he's trying to catch. Who is he kidding?
As the sun sets, Evan races through the humid air, tasting victory. I assume he tasted it, at least. It was right there, so he should've tasted it. It was worth a taste.
As I saw him pull away from the defenders, I knew we'd done it again. And I raised my hands and wolfed down some victory. I took a little victory home in a doggie bag. It had been a great day in neighborhood sport.
Victory makes men. All you men out there, you know this to be true. And now we just sit here together, fulfilled, hammering back beer after beer, shaking our heads at those poor bastards who just don't get it.
Final score: 3 - 2, US!
Real winner: The Vortex.