Any cold, wet Sunday morning is a very evocative experience for me. It reminds me of when I played American Football at Aston University in Birmingham, England.
YOU, Indigo? I hear you say, astonished. You were a varsity athlete?
Man, you better believe it.
Ready for a flashback? Okay, here we go.
For Today I Am The Dog
It's 1990, and I'm in my final year of University in the UK.
More specifically, it's Sunday morning, and time to haul my arse out of bed. It's early, and I ache. In the mirror, I note that I'm a bit black and blue. I recently started playing American football for my alma mater, and even though we've had just a dozen practices and three games, it's taking its toll.
My new sporting life has come as a surprise to everyone, myself included; I've never played any kind of team sport in my life. Or shown much inclination, even. I certainly would never have imagined playing on a first team for my university.
I use the term first team loosely, as (unlike most American universities) there is only one team. In fact, barely two thirds of one. Seventeen or eighteen of us, I think, when twenty five or thirty even would have been better. This divides in two, with half of the players playing on the offense, and half on the defense. Two specialised groups of players.
Our lack of numbers means many of us play on both offense and defense out of necessity. Extra lumps? Oh my, yes.
It's our team's rookie year in the UK's university football league. We have just four games scheduled, and today is our final game. I'd best get moving. Twenty minutes later, after some hasty breakfast and an equally hasty jog across campus, I join my teammates at the pickup point. They look worse than me.
The first three games could have been pretty demoralising, with a couple of low scorers and a total whitewash, but we're pretty upbeat about it. I'd hesitate to call us a bunch of jocks, but there's a lot of low humour, banter and male bonding going on as we board the bus and hit the highway.
I've been looking forward to this game. I've carried a dislike of the university we're travelling to for some time. A former girlfriend went there, and I never enjoyed my visits; the campus, the people, the attitude. As a sporting university, they love to tell you how great they are.
This trip feels like a chance to get something out of my system.
And as we leave the highway and hit the outskirts of town, something happens to me. It might sound melodramatic to say that a red mist descends on me, but that's as good a description as any. My mood darkens, I fall silent, banter bounces off me.
I gaze out of the window. Something is up.
The warm-up session and the practice on the field passes does nothing to lift my spirits. As is often the case when I'm not cheery, I feel like there is a large black dog with me. Today I sense his brooding presence sitting by the sideline.
Their team takes the field with predictable swagger; real jocks, not like us at all. Talented, strong, fast, and arrogant. They've seen the results of our first three games, and expect this to be a walkover. They're here to clean our clocks in the worst way.
And that's how it begins. The first quarter sees us taking a pasting, with some easy scores on the board for them. We can't quite get it together, we need to focus. The playbook is blurry in my mind, and I'm taking cues from the guy beside me on most plays.
And the other team are engaging in a spot of unnecessary roughness and laughing a lot. Our first three opponents had been up for some sport, but these guys want blood. They can win easily, but it's not enough. It doesn't sit well with me, and I'm not alone.
Enough is enough.
There is a lot of muttering and pointing as the game kicks into the second quarter. One guy on their defensive line is mouthing off a lot. Our quarterback calls the play, but as the huddle breaks three of us say his number. The play goes right, we go left. All three of us. The defender falls heavily, we pile on top, and some licks are taken under the pile. We pick up a penalty, but he gets picked up and carried from the field.
The referee eyes us sternly and we get an off-record warning, but the game continues.
And we start to get some respect. A few of their plays go sour, and their strategy changes a little. They're adapting, improvising, but we keep slowing them down. The rout they expected against our tiny, insignificant team is not happening. We defend, we block, we fight back. And as we march back down the field on the offensive, we even get three points on the board.
In the second half, we're still losing and there's little hope of a turnround, but it's a different game and we are a different team. We are not losing gracefully. There is no ground given without effort, no concession by us to our inexperience, no easy way to run past us.
We're losing, but damn they're working for it.
I'm a totally different player. I've struggled all season to find the channelled aggression needed to play this game well, but suddenly it is there. The dog no longer paces the sidelines. I am the dog. I have no trouble unleashing my anger on these guys that are here to hurt and humiliate us.
The war rages on, the clock runs down, and the game is over.
We've lost by twenty eight points, but this is not the result they came here for. They wanted sixty, something to cheer about in the bar afterwards.
Before we leave the pitch, two lines are formed, and we file past their team shaking hands. This is an odd process that ends every game, with every man shaking the hands of every man on the opposing team. It's very sporting, and I like it. And today we see their eyes cast down, their annoyance, and perhaps even receive a few genuine congratulations.
As we head back to the changing rooms, we hear their coach say Hey, never mind lads, at least we WON! but I suspect it's of little consolation to his team.
We hit the bus in high spirits, our season over. My time at university is almost over, too. Some of us will play again next year, but many of us won't. The team may even win a game at some point. I hope the road to that first victory started today.
I've no idea where the dog went, but he can find his own way home.
And yes, home awaits. There will be no heroes' welcome for us, but we're heroes nonetheless.
Continue to Day 30 >>
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