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August 16, 2011

The Horrors of High School Football

Many of you know this - probably through previous posts or social networking sites - but the truth of the matter is that The Mike is a football brat.  Real football, that is. Y'know, the kind with pads and helmets and strategy - not the one where a bunch of dudes jog after a ball.  It's not my fault.  I was born where there was one thing that brought the people of my small town together, with a father who was an assistant coach of the team by the time I was 10.  I didn't have a choice - it's in my blood like a virus. And I'm proud of it.
Recently, I made the mistake of digging into Friday Night Lights, the TV version of the film version of the book version of what the people who romanticize high school football want us to believe high school football is.  It's got shiny people, shiny uniforms, shiny drama, and all that B.S. that might be what happens in the high school football world that people want us to believe in.  Here's the secret though - it's not what Hollywood wants us to believe in.  It's what the people who worship high school football want us to believe in.

Almost thirteen years after the fact, I'm still kind of convinced that high school football is one of the top five most horrifying things I've ever been a part of. There's family emergencies, the Packers losing to John Elway, getting an IV needle put in my hand, something I'm forgetting....and then high school football.  Now let's take a look at just why high school football still scares me.

The Puppet Master
The number one lesson that is taught to any youngster who wants to play football is that they need to fear their coach.  Not all their coaches have to be feared, but the head coach - well, he has to have the power to ruin your life.  He has to be able to have every male 14-18 year old male in the school at his bidding, and to have them at his bidding - they have to believe that going against him will destroy them.  He'll yell and scream and he'll threaten....but he has enough control to make bad things happen.  He's kind of like an evil Bela Lugosi or an evil Vincent Price....but he can make you run.  We're talking sprint until you puke run, all while you try to shout something like PRIDE as you gasp for your next breath.  And he will do it, and sometimes he will do it for no good reason.
Being a coaches son let me in on a little secret - the coach isn't as scary as he acts in real life.  He's not like the coach in Friday Night Lights or Varsity Blues. (Both horrible movies, BTW.)  He's more like Craig T. Nelson in Coach, just not as cool as Craig T. Nelson.  (And that's awesome, BTW.)  So the next time you kids think the coach is as scary as the coach wants you to think he is, remember how cool Craig T. Nelson is. (And now that I've let you in on this little secret...I'm a little afraid that Coach might show up and make me run tomorrow.)
The Golden Boy
Think about a slasher movie you like.  Now think about the character you like the least.  I'm willing to bet that at least half of you thought of the guy in the slasher movie who's got spiked hair, a varsity letter jacket, and who thinks he's God's gift to the world.  He's not the villain we're supposed to fear, but he becomes a villain simply because he's a We all hate that guy.  And that guy, who only makes the situation in that slasher movie worse, is a real guy that's on the high school football team.
The thing to know when it comes to this fool who is ignorant of the reality around him is that most of his teammates think he's a jerk too.  As a full-time member of the "meat squad"* during my high school tenure, one of the best memories from those sweaty days was the day when that jerk decided to take a play off.  Despite my slowness, fatness, and preoccupation with what movie I was gonna watch after the game on Friday night, I made him look foolish in that moment....and then Coach yelled at him for the next 10 minutes.  The point? In a horror movie - and on the football field - his foolish pride can make him dangerous.  On the football field someone's probably not gonna die when he screws up....but if he lets a punt get blocked, that's just as bad.
Letting a punt get blocked = Machete in your team's face.
* - If you don't know, the "Meat Squad" was the nickname given to the scout team, who were the daily meal offered to both the starting defense and the starting offense.  Consider me chopped liver.
The Ghosts
If you live in a small town and played high school football, it's quite possible that there was a ghost behind you for much of your life.  It might be your parent (I was lucky enough to have my ghost on the sideline with me), your sibling, or some other dude who played the same position years before.  There's a bar that's been set for you before you even step on the field, and people are going to remind you of it...or you're just gonna be paranoid about matching it if they don't.  Yes, I asked my dad all about how much he played and how many tackles he registered and how many games his teams won because I wanted to know about what things were like when he was a teen....but also because I wanted to know what I had to do to escape that ghost.
On the bright side, these aren't the kind of ghosts that require an exorcist or Roddy McDowell or some kind of seance.  Once you stop worrying about what other people think the ghosts can't affect you.  In most cases, like the case of my father and I, the results won't really matter to them.  Did I play all the time and make All-State and win a State Championship? Nope. Did I show up every day, do my best to help my team any way I could, and - most importantly - make myself and my father proud? Absolutely.  Be gone, ghosts of football past. You have no dominion over us.
(Oh, and along with the ghosts, there's also girls. Allegedly, girls like football players.  That's wicked scary.)
Mr. Hyde
If there's one thing that still scares me as I look back at my high school football days, it's my practice jersey.  The small piece of cloth that I wore over my shoulder pads for 12-15 weeks for four straight years had holes ripped in both shoulders and the lettering worn off.  Why? Because I - a generally mild mannered dude - decided that I needed to throw myself chest first at a bunch of people who wanted to smash me.  Every day. For four years.
That's not scary, per say. It's mostly stupid.  But the scary moments were the ones when I got caught up in the action and ended up doing things Mike would never do, like throwing a shoulder into a blocker after getting beat the previous play or getting penalized for unnecessary roughness when I flattened the opponent's "star" defender at the end of a play during a 41-14 blow out win - which led to me getting in an argument with the referee and getting pulled from the game while pumping my fist to the crowd.  I was ecstatic, because I had hurt someone I was told to hurt.  And that scares me.
We see those characters in football movies like The Replacements or The Longest Yard - but we also see them in horror all the time.  There's no drug that turns the normally timid into a bloodthirsty monster - except adrenaline.  And if you go into football with the "right" mindset - you're gonna become that monster.  And that coach who wants to prove he's scary....he's gonna like that.
The point of this all, which really doesn't relate to this blog too well, is this. If you're a high schooler who wants to play football - or who is expected to play football - there are gonna be some scary things that happen around you.  People are going to make it difficult on you, and you're gonna make it difficult on yourself.  People will try to control you.  People will put you in danger. People will pressure you. You will pressure yourself.  You might even scare yourself.  And those are just some of the scary parts of the high school football scene.
But hey, there are benefits too.  Looking back, I remember there were so many days that I wished I could just run away from all the horrors of what I'd chosen to be a part of.  Now that I'm older, there are times I miss those pressures and the opportunities to be the monster in a controlled setting that I was given.  Football's a fickle mistress, and if you're going to commit to it you need to be ready for the trouble that comes with it. 
And know that you will eventually - possibly because The Golden Boy screwed up, possibly because it was an off day for everyone - find yourself running ladders when team session goes bad.  Ladders are like the Cenobites of the football field - and your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell.

Now bring on football season!

1 comment:

Marvin the Macabre said...

Nice topic, my man. I never played football, but I did march around on the field during halftime wearing a giant black Q-tip on my head while blatting away on a trombone. Our band director was much like a football coach in that he was obsessed with winning competitions. When he conducted, he hunched over like an overweight vulture. He was a gruff, frightening ex-trucker who still occassionally shows up in my nightmares.

Your post gets me thinking... is there such thing as a "typical horror fan"? Horror bloggers seem to be a pretty diverse bunch, and I'm always surprised by which people in my life are scary movie junkies.