American Football – Day 26
My next adventure was to join the Cornish Sharks to play American Football. This was a full Sunday afternoon session, so I had to think of something which would help occupy the kids to help Daddy out. On the table, I put every bit of craft I could muster, all 3 drawers of it and went to find the mega-sized card for the kids to use for their masterpiece. The A1 sized card only appears occasionally and is used sparingly throughout the year for such emergencies as weekend work deadlines or hangovers. Their brief was a familiar one: A picture of anything but don’t swirl the paints together and don’t rush it! I waved goodbye to my budding artists (who couldn’t see me behind the fortress of stickers, paints and glue pots) and made my way down to Truro.
I hadn’t really given myself a chance to think about what was in store, so on the 40-minute drive, I tried to recall what I knew about the sport. When I was little, my dad used to watch it on Channel 4 on a Sunday evening. I would have my bath and then go and snuggle in, pretending I was interested, when really I was on bed-avoidance duty. I remember the full gear they wore and the crunching tackles that used to come flying in. I started to think about the tackles and the claustrophobic helmet on a warm day and my own lack of fitness and for the first time in this challenge, I had butterflies. Not just one flitting about, but a whole swarm of them.
When I arrived I was met by Brian, who put me at ease immediately by enthusiastically engaging with me about my challenge. I was so flustered, though, I forgot what I had done already and what number I was on and which was the best/worst I had done so far. Be calm, damned butterflies. I composed myself further and met the other guys who were there. Brian gave me my helmet, shirt and pads to put on after fitness.
Whilst the rest of the team arrived, Brian talked animatedly about the club and the sport in general and it soon became apparent the club had got to national league status mainly through Brian’s tenacity and ambition. The lads seem to treat him in a patriarchal way and I could sense a lot of mutual respect. I tried to continue the questioning, like some sort of renegade reporter, in the hope of buying time before the inevitable showdown with the helmet.
First up though was fitness, which was really well drilled and included jumping in and out of big tyres and traversing cones - backwards. It was a hot day and we have already established my fitness is that of an asthmatic slug, so I was pleased to move onto the drills. I excused myself to the changing room to put on my shoulder pads under my shirt. This was not without struggle but finally, and feeling properly ridiculous, I was ready.
At the level these guys play, I was aware they needed to practise without me hampering training, so I was taken away for a few drills on how to catch. Catching in American Football isn’t static, as I found whilst going through various types of offensive and defensive moves. My catching was mediocre but I was enjoying myself away from the main action. Brian’s comfort zone radar must have bleeped because he hollered for me to join the defensive backs. Here, I was given the task of trying to get past an opponent by blocking him and essentially roughing him up and getting past him. I am not sure what the opposite of comfort zone is, but that was where I was currently residing!
After a few attempts at swatting my opponent, I joined a new group to become a running back. The positional play was described to me in number codes and my job was to run through the defensive line, when the quarterback passed me the ball. “Hut hut,” off I went. I excelled in this role, as I didn’t have to throw, catch or get in a fracas; I was just handed the ball as I ran past, with my armed guard pushing away the opposition.
I really enjoyed the camaraderie and found the game itself fascinating. One of the guys referred to the sport as “angry chess” and I think that succinctly describes it - strategic, fast moving and very combative. In the States, American Football is their number one sport, with an average attendance of 70,000 per game. The NFL league pulls in a revenue of $9 billion dollars but in the UK, it is a lightly funded, minority sport, which takes unpaid volunteers like Brian to drive it. I admire what has happened with the club and how the sport is being developed in the county.
I wished the lads luck for their final games of the season and I drove home; glad to be rid of the shoulder pads and eager to jump into the bath. When I got back my daughter proudly showed off her afternoon’s work: a big beautiful butterfly!
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