(*insert Ray Lewis-style speech*)
American football – which is either a source of collective discipline and team bonding, or a steroid-pumped glorified game of catch in lycra pants – is one of my interests set quite apart from my others. My desire to write things is linked to my tastes in music and their lyrics; my interest in playing dodgeball is backed up by my ability to go to Propaganda on a Friday night completely sober and still have a great time. But either because of its relentlessly mechanical focus, or the fact that like three people in this country care about it, American football is perhaps the most unique, qualitatively independent sport I’m involved in.
And, to make that difference even more apparent, today I went to an American football combine. A combine, for those of you uninterested in sports or un-American in nature, is a collection of individual events designed to test an athlete’s physical abilities in a vacuum; to see how fast player x can run, when stripped away of the in-game responsibilities of a receiver to catch a ball, or a defensive end to tackle a ballcarrier. American football is also one of the most specialised sports I know; every player on a handball team has to be able to throw and catch a ball, and block opposing attackers, but each American football position could be boiled down to a single attribute: quarterback – throwing, offensive guard – strength. These two things mean that an American football combine is one of the most surreal non-activities you can do as an activity: there’s eons of waiting for your turn in the 40-yard dash, then six seconds of action that measure one aspect of your physicality. Then more waiting, then five seconds at the vertical jump to measure another single aspect of you.
As a result, this is the only sport I play which actually motivates me to do gym work. Normally, I hate ‘working out’, preferring to actually play the damn games in question, but if my speed, or my catching, or my hips are to be tested individually (both in combines and in game scenarios), it’d pay to work on them as individual attributes.
But this combine wasn’t nearly as vacuous as that assessment suggests; from the coach introducing his Texan credentials by referencing both guns and Jesus in his opening speech to the relentless, military-style clapping that observes of drills did to encourage and motivate participants of drills, this was a weirdly human day. I felt part of a group of people I had no right to feel a part of, and even though the day was non-contact, and so lacked the I-hit-you-you-hit-me method of making friends quickly, I kinda bought into the coaches’ rhetoric of each player playing to not let their teammates down, as opposed to playing for their personal glory.
It’s probably telling that I’m an English student here, that I’ve taken an athletic event and turned it into a treatise on the mechanical versus emotive aspects of the human character instead of just telling the story of how I slipped on my first go at the 40-yard dash and posted a shite time, so sorry if that title prepared you for a post fetishising stopwatches and Cutters gloves. But I learned things today, not just about proper pass-deflecting technique, but about people.
I even got a snazzy wristband to prove it.
– Dynamic Sports Academy, the people who put this combine on