Tuesday, May 13, 2008
On first meeting over the years, many patients have asked me if I played football. I'm sort of a big guy and, during some cycles of my life, have actually looked in reasonable shape. The answer would be in the affirmative, with the qualifier that in general I was comparatively lousy at it. Slow. Not particularly agile; hypo-endowed with the killer instinct. (I was captain of the high school team, and was honorable mention all-city, on a team that finished dead last and never won a game. At halftime of my final game an assistant coach finally got to me: the Knute Rockne rah-rah never worked, but this guy managed to shame me. You coulda been a leader, you dogged it, etc etc, such that I got a little steamed had a noteworthy second half, made a few tackles, a sack or two, blocked a punt; so the opposing coach gave me a nod at voting time.)
Probably it was my first game that did me in. I knew literally nothing about football before high school. My dad, unrealistically wanting bragging rights, convinced me to turn out for the freshman team, and to sign on as a fullback. I didn't know that position from the missionary position, which I also didn't know. Within a day or so, after observing me trying to execute a cutback, the coach said, uh, I think you need to be a lineman. We practiced, I learned, vaguely, what I was supposed to do, and we had a game. Before play began, the guy across from me said "I'm gonna kill you, mutherfukker" after which, when the ball was snapped, he popped me one in the face, resulting in a bloody nose and a revelation. Returning to the huddle as the quarterback called the next play I said, "Hey, I have a bloody nose..." He continued the play-calling. "Excuse me, I have a bloody nose. I need to lie down." With derisive disbelief, the quarterback looked and said, "You BABY!" It was then that I realized in football, you play hurt. Your mommy doesn't give you a cold wash rag and say nice things while gently squeezing your nose.
I kept playing for the next four years, mostly screwing around with my buddies, not too worried about the score. We shared an attitude.
In college, at the end of freshman year, during which I mostly rode the bench, I discovered rugby and never played football again. Our team was actually good; we were East Coast champions, beating much larger schools, Ivy League heavyweights, and I got inspired enough actually to get in shape, run a few miles a day, pump a little iron. Despite the fact that the team was run by a rival fraternity I made my way to the A team by dint of making myself better than the favorite (and frat-brother) of the leadership.
In five years of football and four of rugby, I was never seriously hurt until I returned to my college during the first year of med school. My former team was playing a traditional rival in rugby, and that team was a man short; I was pressed into action, playing for the enemy against my old mates. In a desperation tackle I lunged at a halfback, caught his collar and hung on, somehow managing to detach the tendon of the flexor digitorum profunda of my right ring finger. The required surgery was just before a pathology final. Operating my old-fashion microscope, with its clunky machinery, right hand in an above-elbow cast, was a challenge. And the professor was unamused when I hollered out half-way through the practicum, "Would someone like to come over here and twist my knobs?" It did, however, lead to a romance with a classmate that lasted a couple of years...
[I have realized I've told part of this before. Which means it's confirmed: I've officially run out of things to say. Sorry.]