The Packers arrived late against the Lions last weekend but managed to win and earn a playoff bye, so this Sunday they get to watch football as we do. I like the idea of multi-million dollar athletes slouched on a couch covered in nacho dust and picante stains yelling at kickers same as the rest of us furniture specialists. “My gramma coulda made that!” we screech, then doink it wide right off the trash can with our beer can. From half a yard out. And no 300-pounder lunging at us. Unless it’s an uncle going for the final curd.
I loved football when I played it 40 years ago. Now I simply enjoy watching it. I’ve come to kinda understand the game, whereas when I played it was without insight, using my muscles and wit but rarely my brain. I say wit because as an undersized offensive lineman I learned early that your average noseguard (as we called the central defensive lineman back in the day) came packing 50 extra pounds of beef but was often short on patience and repartee and could therefore be led down the path of iniquity with a few artful barbs, especially if the gibes arrived dipped in arcane multisyllabic esoterica.
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I may have been a hayseed high schooler getting my head knocked in while long-snapping punts, but I read a lot of books, which meant I could perforate my opponent’s non-football armor in low-key but specific ways often related to his self-perception. Having perhaps not read the Merriam-Webster for kicks, my opponents were prone to more standard comebacks, most of them a variation on one particular verb, the ultimate of which was indeed multisyllabic, but decidedly unoriginal and bound to catch the ear of the referee.
Having thus gotten the zebra’s attention, I would quietly engage my opponent in conversation, often about his crestfallen chromosomes or how the fast-twitch fibers in his legs came at the expense of slow-twitch fibers in his cerebrum or how his hypertrophied hypothalamus was likely crowding out his executive function. I always delivered these comments in a solicitous tone, as if I were speaking not in anger or pity but out of tender concern. This nearly always led to the opposing warrior spitting the same verb and pronoun over and over. When the time was right, I hit the punchline: “For such a large fellow you have a tiny vocabulary.”
At this point he would punch me in the helmet. The ref —already keyed in — would toss him from the contest. In came the next guy, always a little smaller and a little slower.
Unfortunately, wits and running the 40 yard dash in 100 yard time will get you only so far on the gridiron, and by college I was done. I’ve watched far longer than I played, and have accumulated a decent working knowledge of the game. I wonder sometimes how our team would have fared had I possessed more strategy and technique as opposed to dumb adrenaline. If I had focused a little more on the playbook and a little less on the thesaurus. Go Packers.
An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.