Poor Seahawks.

I lived in Seattle for over ten years. Two Super Bowl victories in a row would have been nice. Still, my interest in professional football, and in pro and high-level college sports in general, yielded to disgust long ago.

Amateur sports – a different matter. I thoroughly enjoyed watching my son play high school (Mercer Island) football, offensive line, including that game with Bellevue when he went up against a nationally-recruited Samoan who outweighed him by the better part of a hundred pounds. Most plays, the lad would just bounce off; occasionally, the Samoan would gently set him aside.

Those guys were sportsmen. Ethical, too.

Which brings us to the subject of the next couple weeks.  Ethics. The Jewish and the Greek, and the conflict that has never ended.

When my son was playing football (and lacrosse, if I may add) and we were arguing about women in sports and women in general and most everything else, I wrote him a short story, not for publication. The story involves a young Jewish woman, student at a small elite college, who decides to play serious intramural football with the guys.

This is what happens when she finds herself matched against a classics major who takes that Greek stuff seriously.

“The Goddess of the Final Play”

Part One of Three

Football has rules.

Among them: When a forward pass is in the air, both the receivers and the defenders have an equal opportunity to catch it. Pass interference may therefore be offensive or defensive. However, for the penalty to apply, the ball must be, in the opinion of the officials, “catchable.”

Although the officials may ignore a certain amount of incidental contact as the players maneuver for position and try for the ball, personal fouls are punished, whether or not the ball is catchable.

Another rule: Neither the first half nor the game can end on a penalty. The team to be advantaged may, at its discretion, decline the penalty imposed on the opposition and thereby end the half or the game. This is normal when the team to be advantaged is winning and the opposition has the ball. Never give them another shot at you. However, if the penalty is accepted, there must be one more complete, unpenalized play.

The game cannot end on a foul.

Dana Cohen, a political science/pre-law major at Kern College, decided in September of her junior year to play football with the men. The immediate motivation was a dare from her father, but she’d long been curious about how she might perform. By midseason she was regarded as a pretty good player by those who understood the game. Many Kern students did. While Kern was an intellectually privileged and demanding place, the college’s admissions process emphasized athletics, and most undergrads were former jocks.

So Dana went out for the Cavender House Cyborgians. Though she’d never donned a helmet and pads before, she had been something of a prep school track and basketball phenom. Dana was offered the kicker’s job, but turned it down because her father’s dare excluded the position and because she couldn’t kick. So she opted for safety and at 5′ 9″ and 150 pounds, plus serious jumping ability, made the team.

The primary mission of the safety is to defend against intermediate and long passes. This meant that Dana was usually far away from the grunting, porcine violence of the line and the slashing linebacker play. That helped.

Dana loved the rhythm of her game. The play begins. The receivers run their routes. The safeties cover. Usually, the ball either stays on the ground or goes elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean that the receivers and safeties are wasting their time. They gauge each other constantly, probing for weaknesses that might be exploited later.

They also talk trash. Dana didn’t much care for such nonsense, but she was determined to give as good as she got.

“Hey, Cohen,” one wide receiver had called to her the first game, “NCAA rules require you to notify us if you’ve got PMS.”

“This is intramural, doofus, not NCAA. Don’t worry. Any blood we leave on the field will be yours. You wearing your protection cup?”

“Why you want to know?”

“Ever been breathless?”

“I could take your breath away. What kind of protection you wearing down there?”

“Just my chastity belt. It works on the same principle as an electric pencil sharpener.”

“Ouch.”

Dana was cerebral. And as her experience grew, she discovered that a surprisingly cerebral part of her game occurred just before she committed herself to an occasion of violence. It involved a fundamental choice.

Whenever a pass came her way, she had only a second or two to decide whether to intercept or tackle. If she made the catch, she headed for the sidelines, picking up a few final yards and rarely giving the opposition a clean hit. If she decided not to go for the ball, she had to determine how to time the tackle. If she hit the receiver just as he caught the ball – receivers are most vulnerable at that instant – she might jar it loose, causing either an incomplete pass or a fumble.

If he’d clearly beaten her to the ball, she just threw herself at him, hoping less to bring him down than to hang on until help arrived.

Dana wasn’t dominant. But she was good enough, often enough. She also played clean. Sometimes, a defender who’s totally beaten elects to foul the receiver intentionally: accept the penalty but keep him from scoring. That, she refused to consider.

Dana was also happy that intramural teams rarely employed two plays that terrified her. One was the safety blitz, where the safeties, instead of dropping back to cover receivers, head forward into the line to get at the quarterback. If it works, they may sack him or at least break or hurry the play. If it fails, and the play is a pass, there may be no one downfield to defend.

Dana hated to blitz. The first time she hit the line, she experienced a claustrophobic terror so pure that she carried its echoes for the rest of the game. Jack Delaney, the Cyborgian middle linebacker and defensive captain, had sensed it.

“Scared, Dana?” he’d asked, helping her up.

“Not really. I just don’t do very well in crowds.”

“We won’t run it much.”

The other terror was the Hail Mary, a desperation play called by the losing team’s offense, usually at the end of a close game when there’s no chance of scoring any other way. The offense sends all its receivers downfield. They converge in the end zone or at some other spot; the defense also arrives as a group. The quarterback throws a long pass toward the jostling crowd. What happens next . . . happens.

 

Few students had time to watch intramural football. But by the Saturday morning of the annual good-natured grudge match between the Cavender House Cyborgians and the Holloway House Hacksters, Dana had become a modest attraction, for and against. She rarely bothered to notice.

Each team had two official captains, offense and defense. For coin-toss purposes, they added a third, honorary captain. This week was Dana’s turn. The officiating crew, three semi-competent faculty, signaled readiness. Dana was struggling to get her hair up under her helmet when the Cyborgians’ two captains came up beside her, one on each side, took one arm each and started dragging her toward midfield. Her hair was askew, her chin strap dangling. As they reached the officials, she freed her hands to discipline her hair and fasten her chin strap. Then she looked across to the Hacksters’ honorary captain of the week.

Ohmigod . . .

To Be Continued.