Deadman's picture

    I'll hang up my cleats when Favre does (or maybe not) ...

    Holy shit. Football is back. Here I am, still consumed by Cardinals baseball, dressing in shorts and flip-flops, loving the A/C, eating outside at restaurants, sweating in the subways... and yet, ten NFL teams played in preseason games last night.

    This happens every August; I get totally blindsided by football's return. But only for a moment - and then I get psyched.

    I love football. I'm talking real, genuine, I-wanna-marry-you-and-have-your-children love. I know it's silly and not totally healthy, but I can't help it. I love watching games on TV and seeing them in person. I love managing my fantasy football roster, and then rooting for teams that I normally wouldn't care about, playing in situations that don't really matter.

    But most of all, I love playing touch football in the park.

    This fall will be the fifth year I've been organizing a weekly pick-up game in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. About 30 good men are members of the league - half of which usually show up any given week. The game is, in my humble opinion, a beautiful, beautiful thing, and I take it very seriously. I've created a Web site for our league, and T-shirts, and a stat book, and a RSVP list, and weekly email game recaps, and year-end award ballots.

    We have an official field permit. We play for seven months every year, for three hours every Sunday, no matter what the weather. We have old people and young. We have slow people and fast. Fat people and skinny. Black people and white (and one Asian). Jews and Christians. Columbia students and NYUs. Brothers playing brothers. Cousins playing cousins. Even once a son playing a dad. We all get along pretty well, but you wouldn't know it by watching the fights that take place virtually every week when the competition gets the better of us.

    Sunday mornings from September thru March are literally some of the best moments of my life. And yet each year, the new season feels a bit more bittersweet, because I know I'm that much closer to having to hang up my cleats.

    My mom, of course, would love if I stopped playing yesterday. She fears the worst. And her fears - at least this time - are not totally unwarranted. I have a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), which acted up last year during a couple of games. I also have a degenerative spine in the early stages of stenosis, which gets aggravated every time I play.

    And serious injuries are not uncommon in our league. It's just a game of touch, but we've had ruined labrums, broken fingers, cracked ribs, torn ACLs, strained MCLs, sprained ankles. Last year was the worst one yet for injuries. One of our regular players, a kid in his early 20s, decided last year the injury risk wasn't worth it and stopped coming to games.

    But me, I'm going to play til I literally can't do it anymore, just like my cousin, who has smoked cigarettes for most of his life, has a bit of a gut, has had a couple major knee surgeries, is 46 years old, and still comes out almost every week and kicks ass (or at least yells a lot). If Favre can still air it out, and Steven Tyler can still rock it out, and Ron Jeremy can still do the ol' in and out, then certainly I can try and two-hand touch it out.

    After all, the games give me joy in a way few other things do. If I'm lucky, and live a long life, there'll be plenty of time for me to sit around and watch TV, or hopefully, learn how to play golf. Sure, there's the chance playing football could cause a debilitating injury that causes a lifelong issue i may not otherwise have had to deal with.

    But life is full of tough decisions, of weighing risks versus the rewards. And often, the best things in life can end up causing the most pain ... But you know what they say: Tis better to have loved football and lost an ACL than never have loved football at all.


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