There may be no prouder tradition in American male history than that of taking a professional sport and simplifying it to the most basic point possible so as to include a great number of males who shouldn't be playing in the first place. American football is a favorite for this purpose, as it incorporates a number of elements a running game, pads and talent that are easily stripped in the name of backyard brevity. Because of this basic nature, games can vary greatly in complexity. When a group of amateurs get together they often forgo strategy, instead choosing to when the ball is hiked sprint out ten feet and all collide into each other. When a group of veterans get together, the quarterback will typically establish an assortment of routes and plays for his team, the members of which will when the ball is hiked sprint out ten feet and all collide into each other. Eventually the game will end when the biggest player catches his seventh touchdown of the game or attrition has claimed an entire team.
Many elements of the actual game are retained, which makes the entire process something of a learning experience. I, for one, learned how to properly execute a receiving route. Some of my favorites included the "slant," in which you run as fast as you can straight downfield; the "curl," in which you run as fast as you can straight downfield; and the "post," in which you start to run as fast as you can straight downfield before running with concussive force into some object, such as a post or a teammate. Wearing on your back a quiver full of these routes will not only make you a deadly receiver, but also an uncomfortable one.
Of course, you can't focus too much on offense. The true backyard athlete never forgets that defense is an equally-stressed aspect of the game, particularly when it has to pick up the kids after work. Each player is assigned a defensive pairing based on ability and size the fastest players, for example, are generally paired up and spend the entire game sprinting deep downfield to avoid contact with the larger players. This was the role I fell into last weekend, having been assigned to guard fleet-of-foot friend TBone. I viewed the match-up as a speed showdown of sorts and boasted loudly of the subsequent footrace victories I accumulated whenever TBone would slow to "'catch the football.' Strangely, teammates displayed little enthusiasm towards my personal racing achievements.
Also receiving little enthusiasm from weekend competitors are basic health and safety suggestions like "drinking fluids," "stretching" and "not playing." This isn't to say that players outright ignore their physical maintenance. All serious backyard athletes subscribe to the detailed stretching regimen laid out in the Official Calisthenics Handbook for Pickup Football, in which fourteen seconds are set aside to grab your legs and bend them back at the knee thus limbering up the lats, quads, obliques and masseter muscles and then to spread your legs apart and sway back and forth on our ankles, sufficiently loosening the calves, gluts, abs and biceps.
Muscles can be a funny thing, though, especially after two drinks. No matter how stretched they are before and during the game, they will, at some point while you sleep, decide to return to an un-stretched state, and then petrify. Waking up the next morning without functional joints makes it difficult to do a great many things, such as move. Suddenly the negotiation of a tiny ladder connected to an eight-foot bed loft becomes a thrilling spectacle, while putting on pants without bending the knee invariably leads to a contest to see how many times you can head-butt the wall. Afterwards, you get to spend your day or week walking around with all of the grace of someone whose body is made of one long bone.
Some people play professional sports all day long without fear of cramping or soreness; those people can also pay their rent. As for the rest of us, we now understand that our fathers, when turning down our childhood requests to play basketball, simply feared that the act of getting out of their easy chair might seize and sever every muscle in their legs. Yes, there may be some professional athletes out there that wish they were better at writing. But those same gentlemen can walk to the fridge without cramping up and falling through a table. There are certain trade-offs in everything.
So perhaps once motion returns, it's time to re-evaluate weekend athletics. It may be the case that some of us aren't cut out for football; I, for one, am still deciding whether or not motion is the thing for me. Or it may just be the case that some very important questions must be asked before the next game: is it possible that I have muscle? Is it possible for me to properly take care of that muscle, be it singular or plural, before a game? Is it possible to play football and run my usual series of diverse routes and not spend the next week limping around the office, looking like I'm going to pass the Uluru of kidney stones? It may very well be possible.
But it's a stretch.