Adventures in American Football: the (almost) tackle

Remember why you’re here!

To reflect on the ‘why’ of existence is a profoundly human endeavour. Personally I try to avoid it. Too much thinking usually results in drinking until you can’t feel feelings. This is normal. This is how regular human beings, raised in nice suburbs with successful friends behave.

The question of ‘why’ I was ‘here’ – here being a football field – was a tricky one. I joined this team because I wanted to play team sport. Any team sport. I needed to do something for my own mental health. Work was killing me and in my quest to stay healthy I was finding myself at the gym five or six times a week. Frankly, I needed to have something in my life that was enjoyable.[1] I didn’t specifically choose American Football – I emailed teams in 4 different sports. When this team was the only one to respond it was the start of something special. But let’s not pretend I chose it.

Remember why you’re here!

So when the coach implored us to reflect on why we were here as a method of motivation, you can understand I was somewhat concerned. Luckily for everyone involved I only have a small part to play in this game, and my more skilled teammates had much more direct and uncomplicated reasons for being there.

Why were we here? Why do we play defence? Because you can be legitimately violent. Or as my teammates put it, so we can ‘fuck some cunts up’.

And dear reader, on this day that’s precisely what happened.

Without wanting to sound overly dramatic, I saw some things that day that were simultaneously frightening and amazing. I saw people not tackled, but rather pummelled. I saw large men inflict violent and horrible pain on other large men in a way that no society could or should condone outside of a sporting field. I saw genuine, primal fear on the faces our opposition. Not anxiety. Not wariness. They were strong men, shit scared.

After being hit once too often the opposition running back started to tip-toe out from the backfield like a cat trying to avoid a stranger in his house. It was not a successful strategy. He would soon be sitting on the sideline, nursing a bruised body and hurt feelings. The other team’s quarterback was hit so hard that he flung the ball directly in the air like a panicking child. Coming off the field, we flocked to our team mate to congratulate him on the turnover. He simply smiled, happy but embarrassed, almost like a teenager who had finally hooked up with their crush.

Remember why you’re here!

Even in my limited action, I’ve learnt that this game has a way of testing you. Lately I’ve found myself on the field in special teams. For the uninitiated, special teams is basically the kickoff and kick return team. It’s a place where you run as fast as you can at the opposition, who try to push you away from the guy returning the ball. Each kick feels like a scene from a war movie – you run through lines of people, colleagues dropping on either side of you as they are picked off by the other side. You press on through the trenches of men, hoping to get to the ball carrier before you get hit. Or so I’m told. It’s normal for me to be disposed of early in the charge.

On this occasion however, I had made it through the lines and came face to face with the ball carrier. It suddenly dawned on me I was going to have to tackle someone. ‘Why’ suddenly became a very real question – as in why the hell am I doing this? He is big, I thought. I am not. Surely this is just going to end in pain for me.

I ran towards him. Following correct technique (for a change) I propped, I prepared and got ready to absorb the hit and drive the opposition backwards.

There was a whoosh. There was a crack – the kind of sharp noise that close lightening makes. Hard. Short. Powerful. Before my eyes one of the many huge men on my side of the ball hit the ball carrier a split second before I could, with such ferocity it seemed to tangibly separate his soul from his body. While I grasped at the space where only his ethereal soul remained, the man’s now soulless body was horizontal and seemingly floating through the air. It flew sideways, bouncing two metres away from me, the momentum of the hit seeming to carry him even further. He lay there. And all I could do was laugh.

Not at the person that was dusting himself off and getting up. Rather, like someone who has just had a near-death experience, I laughed because I was alive. Because I hadn’t gotten in the way of the angry rhinoceros that had rumbled across the field in search of prey. I laughed that I had thought that I was a relevant consideration when the real threat was to his side. I was relieved, content and appreciative. I saw something amazing, as close to action as possible. I felt every inch of that play.

As all of these stories seem to go, another game ended without me contributing anything. A game ends, another lesson is learnt. But seeing that hit up close? That was breathtaking and addictive. It may not be why I was there. But it will certainly keep me coming back.

[1] Anyone that tells you the gym is fun is a lying liar who lies.

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