Three On Threes

Yesterday was the perfect day for three full games of touch football and I expected nothing less. The temperature must have been about 75 degrees with a nice little breeze to keep you cool after you started breaking a sweat.

But the football gods must’ve been frowning–or so I thought–when it became apparent that most of the core Saturday touch football guys would not be playing.

There’s The Core, who, for the past two years, has been about eight to ten guys that you can usually rely upon to show up nearly every Saturday. And then there’s The Inner Core. The Inner Core members only on the most rare of occasions miss a Saturday and that’s usually because you accidentally chopped your head off or something. Then, when you do miss, you agonize over it.

The Inner Core has consisted of myself, The Veteran, Delicious, and, when he still lived here, Surfer Dude. Unfortunately, the Inner Core is down to myself and The Veteran.

And that’s who showed up yesterday, along with Izzy, a new guy who is quickly gaining both the attendance and credentials to become an Inner Core member. Last week, Izzy brought along a new guy who had played for the National Indoor Football League. This week, three more of Izzy’s friends showed up, including a college kid who plays for Concordia University and a guy who plays DB for Central Minnesota Thunderbirds of the Mid-America Football League.

We had three on three and that’s plenty enough to play so it appears the football gods were merely testing my patience.

I’m pleased to say that after all that waiting, I proceeded to have an outstanding day. I had a lot of things going my way. For both games, I had The Veteran as my quarterback, and, having played together for three years, we obviously know each other’s game. Because it was only three on three, we had a small field. And this was touch football, not tackle. Touch football’s my game. Tackle is the new guys’ game and taking away that aspect of the game is a major disadvantage, if that’s the way you’re used to playing. There’s no jarring the ball loose with a huge hit after the receiver has made the reception. There’s no wearing your smaller opponent down play after play with relentless hits.

With all that going for me, I had a superb day. I had an end-zone-to-end-zone interception return for a touchdown aided by excellent blocking. The Veteran hit me absolutely perfectly on a seam route and I caught the ball in stride, over my head and away from my body, and the defenders just sort of stood there, not moving, as I streaked by them for a touchdown. I caught a little ten-yard hook, got enough of a block so that the defender could only touch me with one hand, and slipped past his teammate who gave up because he thought I was down: Touchdown. I had another touchdown on a fourth down play where we were at midfield. I headed to the back left corner of the end zone but the defender had the area covered by positioning himself in the front left corner so I moved up to the front left cone and The Vet threw a perfect low and outside strike that only I could catch. Which I did, my two big toes hugging the sideline.

The last game was close; tied up at four each in a game where the first team to five won. The Veteran hit me on every play of the drive, culminating in a toss to the middle as I was crossing the back of the end zone. I bobbled it but held onto it for the final TD.

I always tell people I have the patience of a gnat. I really don’t know anything about gnats’ patience but it just seems to me that since they are such tiny creatures, they must not be capable of holding even one iota of patience. That’s me.

Except, maybe, when it comes to football. After a discouraging start, patience paid off.

Two Touchdowns, An Interception & 3 Drops

That was my production for the two games we played on Saturday with the pick-up football guys.

We had five on five or six on six–I can’t remember–but the field we laid out was a bit too narrow for the number of people who showed up, so the first game was all about defense. There were a lot of interceptions because there wasn’t as much room for receivers to get open.

As a result, the game lasted forever. Since we had an odd number of guys, I played all time defense for the first game. That was fine with me. I figured I’d save my energy that way and thus have more in the tank for the second game, when everyone else would be tired. It was all right with me, that is, until I realized just how long the game would last. During one of our numerous water breaks about halfway through the game, by way of commenting on the length of the game, I said it didn’t look like I was going to play on offense today. Delicious was nice enough to notice and offered to switch with me so I could play some offense, which I did.

During the first game I didn’t do much at all except tweak my shoulder. Two weeks ago, I broke up a pass and my hand was gabbed and pulled by the receiver I was defending and it sure felt like my shoulder dislocated and then immediately popped back in; either that, or it was hyper-extended. I am, it must be pointed out, notoriously inaccurate in diagnosing my own sports injuries. Whatever the case, it hurt like hell. The shoulder felt a lot better on Saturday but early in the game I knocked away a hard-thrown ball and tweaked it real bad–damn it hurt.

So that’s what my performance amounted to during the first game.

The Second Game

I fared much better during the second game but halfway through it, I started feeling dizzy. It was clear I needed something to eat. During a water break I scoured my bag for an energy bar I knew was in there with no small amount of trepidation because I bought the bar probably two years ago. But it was either eat it, or stop playing, and that wasn’t an option. So I ate it.

My fears were quickly confirmed, as I started to get sick shortly thereafter. Not throwing up or anything, but definitely feeling really crappy. That and my throbbing shoulder. Ugh.

The Drops

But despite all that, I was much more productive during the second game. I did drop three passes that I should have caught. And it’s driving me nuts because I’ve been doing too much of that lately. Especially as I’m getting older, I can’t afford to drop the passes I should make if I want to keep up with the younger guys. One was a low pass on a crossing route that wasn’t all that easy, but I should have caught none-the-less. Another was a high and outside pass at the sideline that was a little awkward but I got two hands on it, so I should have pulled it in. The third drop was a pass that needed to be low to keep it away from defenders. I was doing a crossing route just over the end zone and my QB got the ball to me about shin-high. I got both hands on it but simply dropped the ball. It’s never an excuse, but I wasn’t expecting the ball. It would have been a score.

Two Touchdowns & An Interception

Halfway through the game, I was pretty exhausted and was not running as fast as I probably should have been running. But on one play, I made up my mind to make a move on my defender and score on a long bomb. Lucky for me, my defender hasn’t been playing as regularly as I have, so he might have been a bit tired. Anyway, I ran a seam route heading toward the middle of the field and once I got him turned inside, I broke slightly outside to create some separation. My quarterback saw the play lofted a perfect strike that I brought in just over my defender’s outstretched arms and with just enough room to get two feet in in the back of the end zone.

My interception came on the following drive. The other team drove relentlessly and efficiently down the field with a well-run set of short plays. They were five yards away from a score and I was playing in the middle. I had a feeling their quarterback was going to try toss one over my head to one of his tall receivers and he did but he didn’t get the ball up quite high enough and I went up and got it.

The following drive, we marched down the field and got to about the ten when I did a crossing route in the back of the end zone and camped out in the middle of the field. My QB fired a bullet between two defenders that I caught (but not before bobbling) for the game winning TD.

Funny, I didn’t feel sick anymore.

Snuffing Out W.M.D.

I believe I’ve mentioned before the fact that football is a wonderful sport. It’s a great game to watch and an even better game to play but whether you’re a spectator or a player, it shares with baseball one important trait: It’s a fantastic game to talk about.

I am a player (no, not a play-ah, a play-er).

More to the point, however, football is most fun to talk about when the subject is your own plays. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. It’s not that it’s no fun talking about your teammates plays; it is, just as it’s fun talking about your favorite professional team’s plays. But it’s true that it’s the best talking about plays in which you excelled.

So after this longish introduction, indulge me as I talk in glowing terms about my own plays tonight.

I play in a city football league called City Sports Connection, or CSC for short. They organize a handfull of different leagues for a variety of sports and your fee pays for the facilities and the referees.

Today we played a team called W.M.D. and pretty much blew them out 33-14. The game was well called by the referee, who gave us every minute’s worth of the game. That’s not always the case. Many refs will speed up games to the point where you almost feel as if you’ve been abducted by aliens several time during the game and you have this vague sense of missing time.

So anyway, at some point early in today’s game, as we were on defense, I commented to my teammate about how long the game was lasting.

"That’s because you’ve already accomplished your goals," Delicious replied.

He’s right, there always does seem to be more time when you’ve done what you set out to do. My goal for every game is just to play well, but I always want to score at least one touchdown. Delicious was referring to the touchdown I’d scored earlier in the game.

Our quarterback, T, had sent me on a stop-and-go pattern down the right sideline and the guy covering me bit hard when I stopped and T pump-faked.

I’ve been nursing a groin pull for several months now and I was afraid T might put it up there too far for me to catch up with at the reduced speed with which I was running. That wasn’t a problem. T dropped the ball perfectly over my left shoulder and all I had to do was reach out my hands and let the ball fall softly into them.

But that wasn’t the end of my on-field heroics. Sometimes you have games where you just catch fire, and when that happens, the breaks seem to fall your way, too. It was like that today.

Later in the game, we’d advanced to midfield and T wanted to take a shot at a score. He sent me on a crossing route in the back of the end zone but a defender was perfectly positioned to pick it off at the goal line. The ball was thrown to the middle of the field and just above the defender’s head, who reached up with both hands for what looked like a sure pick. But the ball bounced off his hands, over his head, and hung there, suspended in air, just as I was crossing behind him. I plucked the ball out of the air for a touchdown.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

On the extra point, T sent me on a crossing pattern from the right side across the back of the end zone. As I was crossing the middle of the field, a window opened up between defenders, and T gunned it in there. I’d already passed the center of that window, so the ball was to my right as I was running. I had to turn my body so that my back was facing the direction I was previously running in order snag the ball, which I did. The only problems was that both of my feet were just out of bounds. CSC rules require that you need only one foot in bounds for a completion. I got neither foot in bounds and if I’d only angled my body as I was coming down with the ball, I’d have had the catch and the extra point. That was the best play of the game I didn’t make, because it was a hard catch.

We’d racked up 26 points and had the ball with about a minute to go in the game, so we just wanted to run out the clock with some short, middle-of-the-field passes. T threw a couple of passes that moved us to about their twenty yard line. On the next play, T was sort of lounging around in the backfield looking for a reciever when he spotted The Veteran at perhaps the one yard line and he gunned the ball.

Problem was, I didn’t see The Veteran as I was jogging across the middle of the field. But I did see the ball and I thought it was for me. I didn’t quite get there in time but I was close enough to get my right hand on it as both myself and a defender converged on the ball. The ball glanced off my hand and tipped up and over the defender’s back. I reached out my hand in an attempt to keep him from intercepting the ball but I managed to bring it in off his back with my left hand for a touchdown instead.

I felt a little guilty about it because though we weren’t trying to, it did run up the score. I basically just reacted and managed to come down with the ball. But still, it was a touchdown, and I like touchdowns.

It was one of those games, too, in which everyone contributed in a meaningful way, so there were smiles all around amongst my teammates.

I’d played on a team with the quarterback who played for W.M.D. The guy has a gun for an arm and knows exactly what he wants to do in the huddle because he can read defenses–obviously, great traits for a quarterback.

He does, however, have an annoying habit of hazing players who are new to his team, as Delicious and I discovered when we once played on his team. He won’t throw to you until you pass his muster.

Now, I sympathize with quarterbacks because they need to not only play the game and play it well, but they’ve also got to manage the egos of their teammates and, if they’re fair, keep track of ball distribution so that each of their teammates have enough touches. And I’m not saying there wasn’t a bit of ego involved with me, as well. But still, I didn’t pay sixty bucks for someone to deliberately not throw to me.

So, as I told Delicious after the game, it was especially sweet scoring three touchdowns against the quarterback who wouldn’t throw to me. Sorta a "See what you coulda done if you’d thrown the ball my way?"

Delicious agreed.