Saturday – March 28 – Noonish
I am on the couch with a cat on my lap and a dog next to me watching Band of Brothers for the fourth or fifth time. My favorite episode is the first one where we see the training those boys had to go through to become paratroopers. The marches up and down that damn hill. Currahee. Three miles up, three miles back. They marched it under the sweltering sun and in the pouring rain. As much as they hated that hill, it got them ready for what lay ahead.
What lay ahead for me was the third hockey game in the 37th Annual Old Timers Hockey Tournament held this time each year at the Alfond Arena. The team I played on, the Bad News Bears, had been soundly defeated in the first two games and would be soundly defeated in our final outing as well. We were old, slow, unfamiliar with each other and of C grade talent to begin with. But we were having fun, damnit! Okay, so it took five minutes to get up off the couch to go to the bathroom but we were having fun!
Why? Why do we do these things to bodies aging like a car parked to the side of the house without a tarp over it for the winter?
On Thursday morning I filled in for a lady during my wife’s contract tennis time. The Armstrong Tennis Center’s eight courts were filled with women of a certain age chasing small, fuzzy, yellow balls around and smashing them at their friends. Holly fills the whole place with her laughter.
Somewhere outside, other ladies are running melting roads, skiing backwoods trails or hiking mountains.
Later in day, at the Bangor and Old Town Y’s and at the UMaine Rec Center men well past their NCAA eligibility will be hoisting up 3’s and jostling for rebounds. In domes and converted warehouses around town there will be soccer games, ultimate Frisbee matches and, I’m told, dodge ball.
At each venue, in each contest, tendons will groan, backs will scream and shoulders will rip. Knees, long bereft of their cushioning cartilage will grind to a pain soaked nub. Feet will flatten out, lungs will burn and hearts will shudder with the effort asked of them. Why? Why don’t we just sit on the couch? Why don’t we stay up in the stands where we belong? Why do some us feel like we have to earn that Pat’s Combo Pizza and the PBR to wash it down with?
It’s been said you get old but never mature.
Friday had been a nervous day. I joked with some of the UMaine athletes in my classes about the game-day butterflies and they agreed it was tough to concentrate in class before a big game. But let’s be honest- their big games are against BU and New Hampshire. They’re playing Villanova or Florida or Notre Dame. I was getting ready for Bee Line Cable.
That seems funny doesn’t it. Well, Bee Line Cable happened to have at least five guys on it who played Division I hockey and a couple who played in the AHL and at least one who played in the NHL and while that was all many years ago the instincts, the game knowledge, the passing and in most respects the skating are all pretty much still there. Our team featured a lot of guys who played in High School, some who played Men’s League, a couple who hadn’t skated in a year or two and a few, like me, who play in loosely organized pick-up games on Monday nights with a fairly genial and low-key crowd. Good thing they took it easy on us.
Under the direction of General Manager and stalwart defensemen Jon Jamison and the leadership of The Legendary Coach Jon Davidson we were mostly just happy to be out on the ice and appreciated the fairly inexpensive hockey clinic we got from the guys who would go on to claim the championship a few days later. And hey, I got to wear one of former Maine Captain and current Texas Star Devin Shore’s old practice jersey’s and I got a goal. My subsequent attempt at his patented double-arm raise leap probably resulted in a torn labrum but it was good to get the goal. I also got an assist on a beauty of a between-the-legs-pass from the boards behind the net to Mike waiting in front of the goalie. That there might have been a ‘distinct kicking motion’ was beside the point or, as the ref said to the boys of Bee Line, “You’re crushing them by twelve. I’m gonna give ‘em this one.” Thanks ref!
Saturday seemed like our best opportunity for redemption but while our hearts were pumped for flight our legs were filled with cement. Paul, our much-to-be-admired-and-pitied goalie, told us after the game that the other team’s goalie got so bored from the lack of attention we were showing him that he started counting the shots against us. He reported 67 or so and he hadn’t started counting until half-way through the first. Alas, things didn’t get much better for Paul in the final contest later that evening. We held strong through the first two periods but eventually our lack of elite skill or the fact that the other team had burned out most of the beer they’d consumed that afternoon eventually led to another crushing with Paul hiding behind the net on the final rush of the game. Smart move Paul.
Afterwards, we retired to the locker room, popped a few cold ones, took some pictures of the bear and made plans to meet a Pat’s in an hour or so after watching a bit of the Bee Line/Play it Again Sports contest that would feature both highly skilled play and brutish thuggary.
Later that evening, back on the couch with Band of Brothers, I questioned again why we, normally clear thinking adults subject ourselves to intentional and cheap elbows, accidental and debilitating tendon tears, and muscles that need two days to unwind again?
It’s not to stay in shape. While diet and exercise help us stay healthy and awesome looking, a great number of diseases are hereditary or just plain back luck, so I don’t think it’s that.
It’s not to compete. Competition is a key element but most adult sports are based on co-operation more than competition. We are constantly rotating teams, partners and opponents and the greatest competition, the one with ourselves, despite our very best efforts, we’re losing. And we know it. We know that no matter how good we were at something we’ll never be that good again. We might know more about the sport but our bodies are failing us. Even those of us who took up hockey only five years ago, even though our skating and shooting seem to be improving, we’ll never be what we could have been if we’d started way back when. Our potential is gone.
One of the great things about youth sports is the potential of every player out there to be great. With very few exceptions, it’s impossible to tell which nine year old will become an All-Star Right Fielder or UMaine Black Bear. It’s pretty easy to tell which 45 year old’s never did.
So why do we play? I think it comes down to the same thing we tell our kids about their sports. It’s fun.
It’s fun to skate fast and score goals. It’s fun to rip a backhand down the line. It’s fun to knock in birdies and swish a fade-away. It certainly is a lot more fun than grading papers or filling out reports. Okay, our kids might be embarrassed by our zeal and try to pretend they don’t know us but that’s okay. We’re having fun.
Except when that jerk blindsided me with his big, stupid elbow. Again. That wasn’t fun but I’ll save further comment on big, stupid jerks and the idiocy of their actions not to mention the outdated view they have of the game and the horrendous impact they have on the kids watching for another for another time.
I want to remember Paul hiding behind the net, Coach joking after the first crushing that there would be video study at 5 a.m. the next morning, Dave trying to loosen up with some frightening version of a yoga stretch, the other Paul skating with the same smile on his face as his son, Colin. My boys showing up for the final game to watch their old man. Emma waving to her dad, Jerry, after he successfully cleared a puck out of our zone (hey, it was a big moment), and Jon looking like he was having the time of his life even as he was falling on his butt.
Nevermind that I couldn’t walk much the next day. I’d climbed my Currahee and it was fun.
See ya next year boys!