Saturday, November 24, 2012

After playing flag football with a bad back, maybe I won't be so hard on injured athletes anymore?

Two weekends ago, my bowling team was thrust into action as an alternate playoff team because another team backed out. My team just missed "earning" its playoff spot by four points so we were the next in line.

I bowled one game that evening, watched my teammate compete in the seasonal "Queen Pin" tournament and then went home. I didn't notice any discomfort that night or the next morning, but shortly after I arrived at work, the lower-left side of my back started to really bother me, and the pain and stiffness never did subside the entire day or the rest of the week. Thankfully, I had my monthly chiropractic visit that Wednesday, and even though I left the office in great pain, I did a yoga workout and went for a walk, and it seemed to loosen things up a bit.

The next day was my volleyball team's last regular season game, and I dreaded it all day. However, thanks to some stretching and some ibuprofen, I made it through my match even though every step hurt. Surprisingly, by the end of the third game of my match, I jumped up and hit a pretty vicious spike (at least for me).

After enduring some volleyball induced pain the next day, my back gradually started to feel better over the course of the next week or so.

I was feeling a bit froggy, so I decided to participate in a couple of Thanksgiving Day pick-up flag football games this past Thursday. Not sure if that was the greatest idea in the world, but I hadn't played a flag football game in exactly three years, and I was simply bursting with the desire to do so again.. I had a heck of a time getting my back loose before we started playing, and it never did loosen up the entire two hours that I played. Somehow, I managed to make it through both games despite not being 100% physically.

The first game, I didn't do much of anything; I made a couple of "tackles," meaning, I pulled a flag or three, but I got beat for a couple of touchdowns, and the only pass thrown to me was knocked down at the last second. The flag I was wearing kept falling off or almost falling off, and I kept trying to hold it on like one would try to hold up a pair of pants that were too loose or just didn't fit very well. During one play, I was chasing down the quarterback and reached for my flag because it felt like it was about to fall off. When you're on defense, it doesn't really matter if your flag falls off. You're still allowed to chase the person with the football, you just wouldn't be allowed to run if you were to get an interception, for example. Tim Benz, a local radio/tv sports personality who is a fellow PSL (the league where I play most of my sports) participant, was on my team in the first game and reminded me that it didn't matter if my flag fell off while playing defense. I already knew that, of course, but it's like scratching your crotch in public; you know you probably shouldn't do it, but sometimes it happens almost involuntarily.

The second game went a lot better for me. On defense, I was told to cover a guy who was about my height and not very fast--my kind of receiver. I did quite well covering him and I may have even had the best pass defensed of my life. It was a long pass, located the football in the air, reached over the guy's shoulder and knocked it out of his hands. It was text-book. The only pass the guy caught on me was when I got "schooled" on a pick play. I felt like an ass, but stuff happens.

To save the best for last, I managed to score a touchdown near the end of the game. Unlike the first game, the quarterbacks targeted me a few times, and I caught three passes. My third and final reception of the day resulted in a touchdown when I gathered in the football, made a guy miss, which surprised me because it never happens, and then started to run for my life. Another guy reached for my flag as I neared the end zone, and I was convinced he would grab it, and I don't know if I consciously eluded him or it was just luck, but I'm dead-serious when I say I was completely shocked to make it into the end zone and see my flag still around my waist. It was maybe the single-most gratifying sports moment of the year for me. I've had a couple 200 games in official PSL bowling matches and a couple of epic-blocks in a PSL volleyball game (you'd have to know me to know how rare it is for me to block anyone in volleyball), but the touchdown I scored the other day probably tops everything else.

As I said, I hadn't played flag football in years, and that combined with my back made most of the day not so pleasant as I was injured and rusty as all hell. However, that touchdown made up for everything. And it was maybe the first flag football touchdown where I had to actually avoid people on the way to the end zone. I'm what they call a "possession" receiver, meaning I'm super-slow, so most of my touchdowns have involved me already being in the end zone when I caught the pass. Don't get me wrong, I've had a few where I had to find my way into the end zone, but they were usually plays where the quarterback hit me in stride and it was just a matter of me racing to pay-dirt. This one was different. Like most passes from flag football quarterbacks, this one was floated to me, and I had to stop whatever momentum I had, gather the pass in, and then try to get around people on my way to the end zone. Not an easy task for someone like me--I'm fast enough to be a decent tackle football player, but I'm not nearly fast enough to keep people off my flag.

Anyway, the main point of this post is to illustrate just how hard it is to play a game, even a pick-up flag football game, with an injury. Maybe I'll think a little longer before I yell for Troy Polamalu to play with his torn calf muscle. Maybe I'll think a little harder before I complain about Antonio Brown missing another game with a high-angle sprain.

If I had a tough time playing flag football with a bad back, imagine how hard it must be to play a game of tackle football at its highest level when you're not 100% physically?

After Thursday, I have a new-found respect for professional athletes.

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