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Cheap Shots, Personal Fouls

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-09-08


It happens so subtlety every year; one minute we're sweltering through a typically vicious Indiana August and then, shockingly, we wake up and discover the floor is chilled because the windows were left open all night. It is that gloriously bi-polar first blast of early autumn, the time when you never dress right, when you're freezing in the morning but still need the car's air conditioner by mid-afternoon. This is the time of year I look forward to most in Indiana, the break-out-the-sweaters time, as the long, dry September nights replace the endless humidity and torrential rains. The past summer was atypically mild in Fort Wayne, extremely pleasant, yet I'm not sad to see it go. Fall is still the best reason to stay in the Midwest.

It's also a time of deep ambivalence for me, though, for every year I'm confronted with my insane football addiction. The two are always linked in my mind — I can never enjoy a crisp, clear fall night without thinking, “Man, perfect football weather.” I'd like to blame my parents for this — they're from Green Bay, Wisconsin, and as a kid I saw Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer, all those guys, when I'd visit my relatives for the summer — but I know it's not their fault. Truth is, I love all football, not just the pro teams, and it's become a huge problem. High school kicked off two weeks ago, college this weekend, pro football next, and I'm afraid that my creative life will come to a standstill as I fret over whether the Packers will go 10-6 this year. It's embarrassing for an arty guy like me, to know that instead of reading Les Miserables or Balzac this year (fall is perfect for reading), I'll be watching some meaningless SEC game featuring two teams I don't even care about. Every year I swear I'll get a handle on it, and every year I find myself watching highlights on Sunday night of games I've already seen. You'd think that the dying days would nudge me into deep, philosophical thoughts, but the fact is, I spend more time contemplating USC's freshman quarterback than I do mortality and Man's Inhumanity to Man.

This year is particularly tricky for me, for my son is the captain of his high school football team, and I've added Friday night games into the mix. In many ways, high school football is better — the games are a hoot, and it's always fun to be in the stands and watch the early evening sunlight fade as the first quarter plays out. But even here, at the games, I feel conflicted; I'm proud of my son, of course, but I've never been fully on board with him playing. This is a contradiction, I know, but I can explain it: the stereotypical, military-trained, vein-popping high school football coach is my natural enemy, and I never wanted my son to be under the thumb of a guy like that. If there's one thing I've taught my children it's this — that insane, red-faced crew cut guy that's screaming at you? Stay away from him. Now and forever.

I watched a telling bit of video a few years ago, featuring a celebrated Fort Wayne high school coach, and it left a deep impression on me. A local TV station ran tape of the halftime speech the coach made at a big game, and I watched as the Type-A coach belittled his teenage players mercilessly, ridiculing them with cruel and personal attacks. I was surprised there was no outcry from this — it was on TV, after all — but the prevailing attitude seemed to be, Coach is okay. He's doing the kids a service. If he occasionally loses his temper and lashes out like a child, well, they probably deserved it. It seemed crazy to me, in an era when parents overprotect their children to an incredible degree, that Coach would get a free pass. But there it was.

There's no way I'd let my kid within a mile of a sadist like that, and fortunately, my son's coach is the opposite — a disciplinarian, yes, but not a psychotic, a good guy who reinforces the good things about sport. Going to the games is still pleasurable to me, and I scream like a maniac when my son sacks the other team's quarterback or springs the tailback with a crisp, textbook block, but I'm left to wrestle with my contrary feelings about the sport itself. I'll always love it, but I'm not sure that's a good thing, and I'm not sure football is such a great "molder" of men. At IU, I remember seeing a group of football players going after a couple of friends of mine on Kirkwood Avenue. No reason, no provocation, just mindless violence and intimidation. Boys being boys, I guess. Funny, because IU's football team sucked at the time. They still do.

But anyway. My son's team is 2-0, and if they get by Triton this weekend they got a shot at the conference championship. And this weekend I got Notre Dame and the points over Nevada, and I'll watch Ohio State massacre some patsy from the MAC. I don't think Florida will cover the 70 point spread against Charleston Southern, but I see Aaron Rogers hitting Driver for the winning touchdown against Charles Tillman and the Bears next Sunday. Are you ready?

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