The battlefield stretched out before me, a rectangle of green, its its thick white lines were marked out at regular intervals along the length of it. It looked like immaculately manicured lawn; Lawn any self-respecting lawn-porn aficionado would get frothy over...But it wasn't. No, this field was astro-turf and the series of white lines marked upon its surface was the gridiron - The field of battle upon which sporting-warriors would strive, where glory is sought and lost and upon which widows are made. [Not really the last part but it sort of worked and so I added it in.]
Back to the story...
I strode down the long corridor from the team change-rooms like a gladiator headign into the arena. I was fit and strong, skilled in battle and ready to rain hell-fire upon the enemy; The Razorbacks - League-leaders and the only team between me and ultimate glory in the final battle of the season.
The cleats on my boots clip-clopped upon the concrete as I strode, accompanied by those of my fellow Spartans, the warriors I would have by my side in battle today - My team mates. My brothers in arms. [We weren't real Spartans, but that's what our team was called so...Yeah, we're real ones!]
Back to the story...
The buzz in the arena rose to a crescendo as we entered; Some cheering us on, some hurling taunts and jibes - Bloodlust. And blood they would have this day for once battle was joined nothing less than ultimate destruction of the enemy could be the result - Victory would only go to one - The Spartans of course. The cheerleaders sang their chants and waved pom poms whilst kicking shapely legs high into the air and I felt...Like a winner.
I was confident, almost disdainful of the enemy, and certain victory would be ours when this battled ended.
My line of warriors arrayed themselves upon the sideline, a wall of 47 black-clad Titans standing tall to either side of me, sternly and unforgivingly facing the enemy who were not quite cowering in fear but slack-jawed, slightly trembling...Some urinated into their own pants like the puny weaklings they were. [OK, that bit didn't happen either but in my hubris I imagined it so.]
Back to the story...
I strode forward onto the hallowed and well-manicured fake-lawn of the battlefield with the other three captains; Confident, almost callous in my disregard of the enemy who were striding towards me from the other side of the battlefield. Oh you puny, insignificant things, my hubris-loaded mind thought as my lip curled in disdain...How your weakness makes me laugh, and how I pity your mothers who birthed you and their mournful wailing once I bring about your destruction this night. Your fear brings me mirth and I look forward to crushing you, striding over your shattered bones to collect the trophy...Oh you puny weaklings. I'm not sure if it was the cortisone injections recently stuck into my knees, the Voltaren pills I'd been popping like Tic Tacs all year, or the Musashi Growling Dog energy drinks I'd consumed all day...But something was allowing my ego to run away with my emotions.
Back to the story...
I strode forward, glory filling my minds' eye, lust for battle filling my heart with gladness and an appetite for destruction quickening my pulse...Let us to war my brothers. It's time to slay...
You can probably tell I was feeling confident about this American football game, the last in a long season - The grand final. My team had swept all before us, even defeating the much-lauded, and very accomplished Razorbacks on two other occasions.
I was a running back, a ball carrier, and had had a tremendous season scoring many touchdowns and rushing for many yards - I was ranked second in yardage gained for the season and knew my job well. I executed well, hit like a steam-train and had a team of well-practised and skilled players around me. We were the most feared team in the league, and for very good reason - We were brutal. Sure, the Razorbacks were very technical, clinical in execution really, but we were bad-ass and that's what mattered.
I took to the field that day feeling incredibly confident, fast, strong and with an endurance-level to take it to the enemy all night long. As the lights popped on one by one bathing the field in brilliant white light I looked around me taking it all in. The crowd, my team standing proudly on the sidelines and the feeling I had inside that tonight was our night - My night. Nothing could stand in the way of a Spartans championship.
Back to the story...
We lost the coin toss and the Razorbacks gave us the ball - OK, I thought, and now it begins.
I received the kick-off, catching the ball cleanly at the 15 yard line. I tucked it under one arm and rushed upfield seeking my blockers, a lane, an opening...All the while the enemy rushed towards me. I could hear the crack and clack of pads and helmets colliding as my team mates met them squarely in an attempt to keep them at bay, away from me and to provide running-room....Zig left, feint right, stiff-arm an attacker who tumbled away behind me and off I went again...I made five more yards after that stiff-arm and then got totally, utterly and convincingly smashed by a big asshole wearing maroon, gold and white. I went down, heavily, rolled and came to a stop with his massive weight bearing down on me.
I held the ball though, and looked to the sideline from below the gargantuan to see how far I'd carried...Not bad 37 yardline, so a 24 yard return. First and 10. I stood, careful not to show I was hurting, and looked up into the stands and found my wife there on her feet cheering. I raised an arm and pointed at her briefly. I felt similar to what it would feel like after a 50-story building just fell on me, but felt invincible at the same time. I was made for this shit.
There was no time to showboat any further though as my offensive-team warriors took the field. I went to the huddle, got the play and took my position in the backfield.
I was puffing heavily but would take the ball again - It was unlikely the Razorbacks would expect it and I was fit, strong and skilled - I'd do my job, no questions. Gain the yardage. Take the hit. Show no pain.
And so the game went. We strived on the field that day, back and forth we went, with the score favouring them, us, them again and then us. It was a titanic battle and there were casualties on both sides of the field. Our tight-end broke a leg that night, one of the linebackers was out early with a bad sprain and I took a massive spear-tackle to the lower back/left hip during one play. I was off the field for several plays getting treatment from the medical staff however took the field once more, re-entered the fray, and joined my fellow-warriors in their struggle for supremacy.
It was a brutal game and as each play began and finished my energy would drop a little further. Each yardage-gain expended my stamina and strength a little more and mentally, well I'll admit it...I was beginning to doubt. I had the right attitude, however the battle wasn't rolling the way my over-loaded ego and hubris-heavy mind had seen it prior to taking the field.
Sport (or battle) is a series of highs and lows, of digging deeply within oneself to find those hidden reserves of energy, that little bit more speed, the ability to take just one more painful hit, or to hand one out. Sport calls for a person to find it within to take ownership and responsibility for themselves and what happens on the field of play, for the result rests on the ability to find that bit more when it seems there is nothing to give.
Back to the story...
We were not victorious. I'd like to say we were, but we failed. We lost the game by 6 points.
The field wasn't ours to claim that day. We were beaten by a superior outfit who executed perfectly on the day. We played our hearts out, I gave everything, and yet it was not sufficient to win the day.
The contest was a vicious and brutal display of the game of American football with glorious moments of brilliance, the display of amazing speed, agility and skill and shameful moments of sheer brutality, anger and aggression. It was played within the rules, a match between our two teams was always played within the rules, but it was conducted right up to that line where within the rules crosses over to unsportsmanlike. I would have it no other way though - I played hard, as did every man on that field.
Injuries were many, as is often the case in the last game of the year when everything rides on the result. Broken leg, sprains, cuts, bruises (always bruises) and the other team had one player with a dislocated shoulder.
I was in pain from the spear-tackle to my back - Essentially, the player launched himself, helmet first, which collided with my left hip/back area arching me backwards and sending me sprawling to the ground in a lot of pain...I still suffer with that injury 20 years later...But that wasn't the worst injury, or the injury this post is about.
The worst injury I received that day was to my pride. My ego.
You see, I'd carried those two things onto the field of battle, to my shame, and allowed them to undermine my better-judgement. I'd allowed hubris to cloud my thoughts, and whilst it seems like a confidence builder it's not. Hubris takes away the ability to logic things through and looking back now I believe it affected my lead-up to that game...The whole teams lead up actually. I failed as a leader, as a player and I failed myself. I learned a lot though. Failure is a great teacher.
A few weeks ago I ran into one of the linebackers I played in that team with and we chatted about those days and that game. As it turns out he now coaches a team and that week was playing the Razorbacks. For the first time in 20 years I went to a game which I wrote about a couple weeks ago. I enjoyed it but saw the same hubris in the players I once had myself. This time I recognised it, but they did not. I believe it's an affliction, an injury, most sports-people suffer with and carry throughout their playing careers. One doesn't need to look too hard to see it. Confidence is one thing, ego is quite another - One positive and the other not.
These days, as an almost 50 year-old, I've discarded those emotions, the ego and hubris, and have replaced them with ownership and responsibility - Two emotions that help deliver the right attitude - A winning attitude. I wonder, what would that Spartans team have been like all those years ago if we had made that paradigm-shift back then.
I played for over 10 years and had huge success, two operations, countless injections, got addicted to pain-killers, was a strong, fit and skilled individual...I never played in a team that won the title though and I'm ok with it. I won in other ways and the lessons I learned in those years stay with me now.
Thanks for reading.
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