Posts Tagged sports traditions

Our New Year’s Day Football Tradition

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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How Important Is Being Dignified In Sports?

I found a story on the internet about a college rugby player who scored his first goal ever and was forced by tradition to “shoot the boot.” This is when he drinks beer out of a rugby shoe still covered with the game’s mud and grime (and possibly foot fungus too).

I asked him if I could post his story on this site, and he declined, saying he was applying for jobs and was worried that prospective bosses searching the net wouldn’t think he was a serious person, though he was clearly a devoted sportsman and outstanding team player.

All sports have these rituals of initiation. Who couldn’t understand that and accept them? What kind of nerdy, staid boss? And who’d want to work for such a stiff? Awright, I get it, I get it.

Jeez in England for centuries, when a youth kills his first deer, he smears blood all over his face to celebrate his de-virginizing. I remember seeing these photos in Scottish sporting estates of boys AND girls barely 14 or 15 smiling proudly beside the antlers and beaming parents.

But the rugger’s rejection reminded me of another college senior who gained 30 pounds of muscle and described his transformation on this site…but later asked to have his story and pictures removed, because prospective employers might not hire him if they saw how he used to be skinny.

Now here I am at age 69 flashing my abs and showing totally undignified pictures in a world of adults who are all trying to “act their age” and maintain the respect of others who are presenting more proper, age-appropriate faces (and bodies) to the world. I sure am out of step.

Okay, okay. It’s easy for me to imagine being turned down by an East Side NYC co-op, or rejected at a country club, if I am not behaving in a socially acceptable manner. I can even foresee some people not going into a business deal if I am too unconventional.

But it reminds me of the straights in suits from the east meeting the blue-jeaned digital entrepreneurs of the west. The new tycoons of Silicon Valley sure showed those dying manufacturers from the heartlands that clothes and old customs didn’t make the financially successful man. Certainly not having the stodgy graces of a 19th Century industrialist in a $2000 suit with hand-stitched buttonholes.

Plus it always seemed to me that it was a lot more fun to be youthful and free and not weighed down by too many social conventions…if you could get away with it.

Take any dignified man in the world and give him a baby, preferably a child or grandchild, and everyone allows him to kneel down on all fours and play with the youngster, while being as silly or ridiculous or undignified as he wants. But as soon as that powerful geezer rises up, he must withdraw back into his shell of reserved appearances. Boring. Deadening. Not for me.

Is it for you? You CAN create a life that may not require you to be so stiff and withdrawn, so formal and respectable. There are many worlds in which to earn a living that are more forgiving, be they advertising, the arts, digital domains, sports. How important is that for you?

While I understand why those two college seniors felt the need to hide their past shapes or shenanigans in sports, I think it is a sad and negative commentary on how much of our society works. One benefit of growing older is that hopefully you are long past those situations in which other people’s judgments will rule your behaviors and your life. But we all know that I am just thinking wishfully and dreaming fancifully. We are never totally free of those outside opinions, unless we are completely senile, crazed or totally self-centered and absorbed. And in those cases, who wants to hang out with you anyway?

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