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Football from the outside in

Football from the outside in. By Julie Seyler.

BY BOB SMITH

I failed as a baseball pitcher because of a bad attitude. I didn’t have the athletic skills for basketball or soccer. And I lacked both the skills and raw physical aggression needed for football. As a result, I was never particularly interested in watching other people play those games.

I don’t regularly watch any sport, for that matter. But I make an exception for the Super Bowl, because it’s a championship game where the best teams are playing really hard, there are cool commercials, and an interesting halftime show. And best of all – greasy snacks. But otherwise, because I was never very good at sports myself, I’m pretty much a non-watcher of televised sports.

It started when I played Little League baseball as a boy. They made me pitch, because as a left-hander, it was natural for me to sling the ball across my body from left to right. The pitch started high, looking like a strike, but then it slid down low and inside against right-handed batters – really hard to hit.

But if the ball was hit back to me, whether in the air or on the ground, I couldn’t catch it worth a lick. And at the plate, I struck out almost every time. Worse yet, I was a perfectionist – I thought that unless I struck out every batter, I was a failure. So as soon as anyone got a hit I got angry and threw harder, losing all control. I issued walk after walk, loading the bases.

Wise guys supporting the other team would start to chant: “Pitcher’s crackin’ uh-up! Pitcher’s crackin’ uh-up!,” and I’d get madder, throwing even more erratically, proving them right. The coach would yank me, and I’d sit in the dugout pissed off for the rest of the game.

Junior high basketball was also a big mistake. I wasn’t coordinated enough to dribble and run at the same time. Hell, I couldn’t dribble a basketball standing still. Whenever I got the ball, I would panic and freeze and frantically try to pass it to one of my teammates before the opposing team ripped it back out of my hands. And under pressure, when it counted, my shots usually were bricks that dinged off the rim, or worse yet, missed the backboard entirely.

In high school, we played soccer in gym class. I loved playing the defensive line. My main job was to break up plays by intercepting the ball and booting it anyplace other than toward our own goal. But dribbling was still problematical. I couldn’t do it with my feet, either. It never became an issue because most of the time the faster, more agile players (pretty much everyone) simply ran around me en route to the goal.

Then came football. The high school coach made a recruiting visit to the eighth grade lunchroom, sitting at our table and expounding on the excitement and fun of being on the football team. But given my past experience with sports, I was wary. Being a football quarterback required you to be fast and agile, and have a strong, accurate throwing arm. The guys who caught passes were sprinters who could catch the ball exceptionally well. People who ran with the ball and the guys who blocked to protect the quarterback had to be not only agile, but big, beefy, and strong. I wasn’t any of those things.

And most of all, football required you to smash really hard into the other guys, over and over again, which to me seemed rude and unpleasant. Even wrestling with my brother when we were boys, I was offended by the sweaty grasping and grunting and too-personal contact. Football just seemed like wrestling with additional protective equipment, punctuated by frequent violent collisions. Not for me.

So, I’ll go to a Super Bowl party this Sunday. I’ll gladly make witty conversation, drink beer, eat chips and wings. I’ll enjoy the wacky commercials and the over-produced halftime show. Just don’t ask me anything about the game, or the players, because I won’t know, and I don’t much care.