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Bringing a unique touch to the sport

A touch football league that brings together the worst and the wonderful.

December 16, 2009|Chris Erskine
  • Some members of the writerÂ’s weekend football league, in which pass patterns tend to resemble perp walks and a player was once cut for being too good. And yet, itÂ’s still wonderful.
Some members of the writerÂ’s weekend football league, in which… (Bob Burlison )

Starting today, I'll be taking an indefinite leave of absence from my marriage to work on touch football. I hope to take some time to get my priorities in order. My weekend touch football teammates are like family to me -- dysfunctional, psychotic, forgetful.

Besides, athletes like these come along only every few minutes.

See, touch football isn't a sport, it's a vice -- or at least a very regrettable habit. It's like buying lottery tickets with the mortgage money or smoking cigars while delivering babies.

Imagine "Swan Lake" staged by circus livestock. That's us warming up. Our pass patterns look like perp walks. It's considered a successful play when we don't all torque an ankle.

"Dear Commish," went an e-mail last week.

"Threw out my back yesterday bringing in the Christmas tree, hanging lights, climbing up and down the ladder, or some combination of the three.

"Despite a thorough regimen of red wine and Scotch last night, I'm in no shape for football.

"Will have to see you next week."

You get the idea. You think Sean Payton has to deal with last-minute stuff like that? Well, not as much as me. I am commissioner of what might be the worst (though wonderful) touch football league in America.

We once cut a player because he was too good. No kidding, the guy had played some college ball or something -- maybe he could merely walk without wheezing -- and he proved too intense. Get your playbook, pal. See you later.

Another guy played at Harvard. Gone. Another was team captain at Colgate. History. When aged players from elite Eastern schools are too good, you know you've set the bar pretty low.

Like many weekend leagues, ours is based on a sense of desperation and troubled, tortured pasts. In fact, I can tell on the first play which players had bad weeks with their bookies.

Then there's the "two-hand touch" itself. In our league, it's just assumed that you tag the opposing player on the shoulders or -- while somersaulting spastically -- down around his knobby knees. The last thing you ever want to do is tag him in the stomach area, in the meaty muscle-goo of middle age.

I'll confess that at times, when I can't quite reach the opposing player, I've been known to just tag myself and lie.

"Got you!" I say.

"No way!"

"I heard it," a teammate says.

"See, he heard it," I say. "Second down right here."

Honesty has its place, but it's not here. As a league of mostly lawyers and writer types, we seem to thrive on gamesmanship and controversy. It doesn't help that the rules are a mash of pro, college and middle school. A couple of the guys actually think they are playing lacrosse. But since we're usually desperate for players, we don't ever tell them.

Before a recent game, two players -- Goldfingers and Commie, almost all players have nicknames -- agreed that some of us have gotten too old for this.

"It's stupid," Commie said.

"Yeah, just stupid," agreed Goldfingers.

"But it's a good stupid," said Commie.

The consensus among the older players is that running full out is an immoral act. So when we have more than five players a side we usually play a zone, sometimes a "cover 2" -- though most of us have only a fuzzy understanding of what a "cover 2" is. There are some concepts in life -- the electoral college or minority equity stakes -- where a fuzzy understanding works just fine.

Admittedly, I have a slight advantage over other older players. Having eaten bacon all my life, much of the gristle has settled into my knees, making me flexible and immune to serious joint damage. Doctors say I might be half pork.

And here's the scouting report on another timeless player, Bob, also in his 50s:

* He's a bleeder.

* Does not move well to his left.

* Does not move well to his right.

* Questionable hands -- fingers like the long mucousy tentacles of a jellyfish.

* Sneezes a lot.

* Might be missing a foot.

Then there's Eisen. In 10 years, I've never seen Eisen's feet actually leave the ground. He runs like a second-grader rubbing his feet across the carpet to make sparks.

Eisen famously broke his collarbone several years ago, when some big lug fell on him like a ginormous redwood.

"Personal foul, foreplay!" one wise guy yelled, maybe me.

Then we realized that Eisen was actually hurt, holding his shoulder like a broken sparrow. Several guys offered to drive him to the emergency room, but Eisen refused.

"If you can't drive yourself to the ER," went his thinking, "then you don't belong in this league."

Of course, that's just stupid.

But, you know, it's a really good stupid.

Erskine also writes "Man of the House" in Saturday's Home section.

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