My son plays varsity football for his school and that is how I happened to find myself under the lights on a frigid Friday night. Clad in multiply layers of clothing and wrapped in a sleeping bag guaranteed to stave off any cold above -6 degrees Celsius I settled in to show my support. My presence was necessary to provide a physical example of my love for my child, which I did with every shiver that wracked my warmth and comfort loving being. If my personal kinetics are in anyway accurate I love my son more than a lot.
Football, at its best and its worst, is a game of extremes. High school varsity football reflects this world in all its multicoloured facets. Ranging from the ages of 14 to 18, these boys (some in the guise of men) make their first forays into the world of competition and conflict that marks all of our days to some extent. It is a game that has everything to do with the nobility of sacrifice and the art of war. It is a game of intellect and strategy. It is a game of brute strength and raw nerves. To those who put on the helmet and toe the line it is not a game at all but a way of life. It is a poetry of motion and planning that can drag you down to the depths or lift you up to heaven. It is, at its essence, not just an issue of physical strength (that does help). One also requires savvy, nerves and intelligence to successfully join the ranks. It takes all of those things to play football and more. Football is truth. It does not lie. It lays you open and bare for all to see. It is an unforgiving and demanding mistress but it awards its disciples with strength, discipline and self-respect.
The frozen field is covered with a powdering of snow. Crashing bodies on a collision course slide and tumble through the cold night air sending dusty plumes up into the atmosphere. The lights over the field prism in the dark like small blazing suns sending rays across the limestone lines and silhouetting the huddled soldiers hunched against the cold. A chorus of voices, deep and harsh, rises up in clouds of misted breath. The lyrics of the game crystallize above our heads and shatter into a testosterone laden harmony. “Iron it out! Iron it out! Iron it out! Smooooooooooth.”
A break and the lines are formed. A whistle blows. The ball is snapped and two walls of flesh surge forward. The sound of body on body and helmet on helmet echoes through the crisp autumn dark. The white elephant of war and conquest stands invisible against the dark velvet sky while watchers, swaddled against the cold, people the sidelines.
Tides of aubergine and navy crash and mingle like feuding waves on a flooded plane. “Lucy, Lucy, 49, apple” is a secret code that determines the steps of this choreographed conflict. A game of passion, blood and tears there is no room for the weak or faint of heart. Esprit de corps wipes away all uncertainty and individuality and each side is a nation of one.
The whistle blows and the linesmen change sides as the first quarter slips into the second and the lines reform. Face to face, shoulder-to-shoulder, the manifestation of purpose hovers over the line of scrimmage in the blurred breath of certainty and intent. The sky opens up and the heavens float down in swirling flakes of frozen lace. An arm pulls back and the ball flies into play, a long and lazy ark over the field. It hangs for a moment under the lights, a dark prize held in the glow of late autumn snow, before it dives down to the eerily festive battlefield of the white muffled wildcats and warriors below.
Football is a demanding mistress. No one who has ever played will deny that. Watching the rushing figures as they crash and tumble through frigid swirls under those Friday night lights, I know they wouldn’t have it any other way. The whistle blows and voices rise once more to echo out across the field…”Iron it out! Iron it out! Iron it out! Smoooooooth.” Battle is joined again.