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STYLE & CULTURE | GUY CHRONICLES / CHRIS ERSKINE

The role of football in game of life

January 22, 2003|CHRIS ERSKINE

So here we are, planning a Super Bowl party, all the guys I play touch football with -- lawyers, screenwriters and other people of dubious means -- trying to find some sucker to turn his house over to us on Super Bowl Sunday after our weekly game.

Sober, we're barely tolerable. After a few brews, we'd be like a band of Cossacks, but with fewer social skills. Sweaty. Grass-stained. These clowns would eat all the food we'd bring, then raid the host's refrigerator. Eat the leftover Christmas candy. Munch the houseplants.

"How about your place?" someone asks Rhymer.

"No way," Rhymer says.

"How about yours?" someone asks.

Mine? We just renovated. If these guys came over, we'd have mold problems and a lingering locker-room smell. We'd have to renovate again.

"I think," one of the teenagers who plays with us offers, "my mom might let us use our house."

"You think so?" I say.

"Sure," he says.

"We'd, you know, bring stuff," I say.

"Like, each other," someone says.

"I have an extra TV," another guy offers.

Nothing if not generous, we invite ourselves over to someone else's home for a Super Bowl party. If this works out, next year we'll attempt Christmas there.

"You'd better check with your mom first," I say.

*

It's a week before Super Bowl and a certain insanity has swept the land. On TV, Warren Sapp, the most obnoxious player in an obnoxious league, struts the sideline like a one-eyed pirate.

Two minutes before the game is over, a teammate whips out a video camera. "Oh, behave," you want to say. But it's Super Bowl week. America's Mardi Gras.

For three hours, we have watched Sapp's Buccaneers handle the Eagles of Philadelphia with too much ease. The highlight comes at halftime, when Philly fans boo some rapper.

Memo to NFL: Skip the hip stuff. It's not your strong suit.

Then we turn the channel to the second game of the day. To Oakland, cradle of civility.

The Raiders look like a class act compared to the Buccaneers earlier in the day. Of the two teams now headed to the Super Bowl, the Raiders and the Buccaneers, the Raiders are the more likable team -- with surprising composure. If history is any indication, they'll get blown out by the second quarter.

"It's one of those disgusting things," I tell my son. "In the Super Bowl, the team with the most loudmouths and idiots usually wins."

"That's disgusting," he says.

Football. As someone once noted, "it starts with a whistle and ends with a gunshot."

*

Back at the touch-football field, the dads are losing to a ratty band of teenagers, mostly our sons.

"This is no time to panic," I say.

"No, we'll panic on the next play," my buddy Eisen says.

For three months we have been coming to this little patch of grass to play touch football -- every Sunday, like church -- till our muscles soften like bread and our lungs collapse and our sons laugh at how desperately we play.

Our middle-aged hearts are shaped like footballs. Even God must laugh at the spectacle of it all.

"You guys run crossing patterns," my buddy Donnelly says. "You, stop and go."

And for two hours, our mortgages aren't due. Our bosses aren't raving idiots. Our lives aren't measured in Monday mornings.

"Are we playing zone?" one dad asks.

"Maybe we should go man?" someone else suggests.

We are like tinmen at a hammer convention. Dinged. Dented. During pass patterns, my eyeglasses slip from the bridge of my nose. I push them back, then catch the ball.

"Cover Miller!" someone screams. "Cover him!!!"

Football. It starts with a whistle and ends with a pulled groin.

But it never really ends. We play as kids. We play as teenagers. We play in office pools and in video games. In fantasy leagues and on scratchy ball fields like this one. In football, all leagues are fantasy leagues.

"You know," one father says after a game, "for a while, it's like being back in the quad at college, tossing the ball and forgetting everything else."

Happy Super Bowl.

*

Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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