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Dreams die hard for an OG who can KISS his football career goodbye

Los Angeles' new Arena Football League team, looking to fill its last few roster spots, holds an open tryout. A present-day Paper Lion doesn't make the cut.

January 15, 2014|Chris Erskine
  • Left to right, Kyle White, 22, Chris Erskine, Gary Wright, 24, and Phillip Sumlin, 27, participate in the Los Angeles KISS open tryouts on Jan. 11.
Left to right, Kyle White, 22, Chris Erskine, Gary Wright, 24, and Phillip… (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles…)

Pro ball seems always to just elude my soft, suburban hands. I have this dream, over and over, where the QB zips a pass high over the middle, and I am unable to go up for it. I look down, and I see two newspaper editors wrapping their arms around my legs, preventing me from reaching the ball. One looks like Naomi Watts, the other ....

Look, details aren't import. What's important is that something always seems to be holding us back from our dreams. Don't let it.

Paper Lion? Meet Paper Kiss.

So I follow this paper trail down to Santa Ana, where L.A.'s new Arena Football League team, the KISS, is holding open tryouts. This whole dream thing is a running theme, because everyone brings it up, even Coach Bob McMillen, the AFL's version of Mike Ditka.

"I played 13 years in Arena," McDitka barks in his welcoming remarks. "I got my start at an open tryout just like this."

It was his fifth tryout, in fact, and he went on to a hall of fame career in Arena, and is now coaching this expansion team for rock star owners Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, among others.

Their expansion team will carry 24 players during a frantic 18-game Arena season, a cross between traditional football and what happens when you drop live lobsters into a pot of scalding water.

McDitka pretty much has his roster assembled for the March 15 opener, but he's looking for a few more studs for camp. He might take five players from these 83 tryout participants, he might take none.

When he says none, he looks directly at me. I take that as a personal challenge.

I am following on the heels of George Plimpton, of course, the author of the sports classic "Paper Lion." Plimpton faced down Detroit defenders in training camp and lived to write about it.

And right now, you're saying to yourself, "How good can these other players be? You once scored five points against the Harlem Globetrotters. Show them the beast that you are."

Well, during our combine, one kid in my group, receiver Josh Sipho, runs the 40-yard dash in a beastly 4.37.


You could visit China in the time it took me to run 40 yards.

In the shuttle drill — measuring footwork and quickness — some players time in the 5-second range, very close to NFL standards. I finish in over 9 (making me the fastest columnist in camp).

What they can't measure in these drills is heart and courage. Frankly, I don't have much of that either.

In one drill, I knock loose several dormant alcohol molecules that latched to my frontal cortex over the holidays. Like a pair of Bufferin, they go directly to my ouch spots.

Worked so well, I'm currently developing a spray-on version of dormant alcohol molecules.

Yet, the other tryout participants are supportive, even as I push them to the upper reaches of human performance.

"Let's go, OG!" they yell during combine drills.

For those of you not in street gangs, OG means original gangster, generally a term of respect for older members.

Or maybe they think I'm an offensive guard.

"Do it, OG! Get it done!"

The players here are mostly in their early 20s, made entirely of fast-twitch muscles, with Red Bull for blood. They bolt over the field like pumas on pogo sticks.

When I finish a drill, they look at me like I'm Larry King. My entire body has tennis elbow.

"The pleasure of sport was so often the chance to indulge the cessation of time itself..." Plimpton wrote in "Paper Lion."

Paper Kiss knows just what he meant.

"How old are you?" one player asks.

"Old enough."

"I think you're older than my dad," he says, as if he previously thought no one could be older than his old man.

No doubt, the AFL is a quirky little league. Ever hear of a Jack linebacker, or a Mac linebacker? You soon will. Co-owner Brett Bouchy says they've sold 5,000 season seats and expect to fill Honda Center every game.

Marry a KISS concert with a football game and that's what you'll get at an Arena game. During opening ceremonies in March, don't be surprised if players swing down from the rafters, onto a black field, and maybe into a mosh pit of salivating witches.

Whatever they do, it will be more exciting than a Lakers game these days.

Take it from a real OG.

a Lakers game these days.

Take it from a real OG.

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