Another New Year's Day football game—1/1/2012

Another New Year’s Day football game—1/1/2012

Dave Nichols has spent a lifetime examining sports as an athletic director, professor and teacher. He just sent me this heart-warming story about an annual football game he and his buddies have been playing for 45 years. And he says he is working on his abs. In the group shot below, Dave is wearing a red hat and standing seventh from the right.

On a crisp winter’s day in 1969 Massachusetts, a group of Medford High School students met after partying the evening before to play tackle football in the morning’s snow. The student’s consisted of high school athletes and dubbed themselves the “Fast Guys.” Across the park that New Year’s morn, the Fast Guys noticed another group of young men who lived in the vicinity of the public park playing football as well. A verbal challenge to a game ensued, and the rivalry of the Park Boys versus the Fast Guys began in what would be called their “Snow Bowl.”

For 45 consecutive New Year’s mornings at 11 am, the two teams of seven men each have met to play not for crowds or glory, but simply for their own amusement, regardless of weather or life’s situations. Conditions have run the gamut. During the 1973 game, temperatures climbed into the 60’s, while the 1997 game was played in single digits. The turf has been muddied, iced, and covered with over two feet of snow, and the men—now in their 60’s—simply play on. The rules remain the same as the original contest: centers are still eligible, three consecutive passes warrants a first down, and the field sides change after each touchdown. Protective gear is not allowed, and uniforms simply don’t exist.

The games used to last for hours, but get shorter each year. Basically the length is determined by what the men can stand. When someone who is exhausted says “How about two possessions each,” that is what happens. The Fast Guys dominated in the early years, but the Park Boys have made recent gains, as the Fast Guys are simply not that fast anymore. Snow is a great equalizer. The total record is always in dispute.

The Medford, Mass Snow Bowl Gang

The Medford, Mass Snow Bowl Gang

Players know which team they are on, as many participants have been together since kindergarten, and “If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never know me” is the sentiment that prevails. The men travel from all over the east coast to come to their game and do so because they simply love to play.

During the off season (the other 364 days of the year), players harass each other, suggesting their superiority, arguing about the total won-lost records, and glorifying past performances. Sometimes they get together for other athletic endeavors, and other times it is a “Same Time, Next Year” event. No calls are necessary as it just happens.

One guy got married the night before and showed up the next morning. Needless to say he got the game ball. Both teams were hung over in the early years, but knowing what is coming the next day deters serious debauchery. One of the players has actually had surgery three different times the day after the game. Children seldom play. Last year one of the teammates passed, and his son came to take his spot. Families sometimes come by, but generally the fans consist of a passerby walking his dog. Most of the wives don’t really understand why their men do this, and the mantra when guys depart for the game is generally “Don’t come home if you get hurt.”

The only concession made to age is that the men greet each other with a hug instead of a handshake and have come to actually appreciate their opponents. They also hang on to the thought that they may not be as athletically gifted as they once were, but for a moment, just one more instant, they might be as good as ever. To a man they believe that playing together with friends outside in the snow is not just for children, but for men as well, and they are determined to play as long as they can put one foot in front of the other. It is a revolution of sorts, spawned by the spirit of a society of aging men who believe they are exemplary in their pursuit of athletic longevity.

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