A time to feast on family football

Love makes misfits of us all, and so it is with football.

And to all those staging family turkey bowls today, I'd like to congratulate you in advance, while you're still alive. May I suggest stretching thoroughly and gobbling the Excedrin ahead of time. Why wait to medicate? This is America, after all.

May I also suggest running at least one flea flicker and one triple reverse during your backyard games. To those unfamiliar with such ballet moves, a flea flicker involves flipping the ball back to the quarterback for a surprise pass, which, by tradition, is always intercepted.

Meanwhile, there are many variations on a triple reverse, but they usually involve one bloody nose and at least two dropped handoffs. One of the glories of the game is that a football never bounces the same way twice, and neither should you. When you fall to the ground to recover a fumble this holiday weekend, treat it like a bank robbery. Hit the floor and pray.

"Dear Lord, please help me through this pileup. I'll never make fun of Notre Dame again."

How prevalent is the family turkey bowl? In the sporting goods store the other day, they had an entire TURKEY BOWL display, with footballs, cones, flags. No Excedrin or elastic bandages, but I figure some clever clerk will eventually add those too.

A turkey bowl is a remarkable thing — as American as embezzlement, as healthy as a car wreck. It is best played in the rain, on fields as soft as you are. The ideal turkey bowl would be played on two feet of Mississippi cotton. Or a cumulus cloud.

Still, your Uncle Mike would probably break a wishbone.

Like Uncle Mike, I have no business being out there. I'm so old, I once drove a Plymouth Rock. It had two speeds: stop and explode. When you turned on the windshield washer, rust would pour out of the radio. It had more holes than the 49ers secondary.

On Thanksgiving weekends, back in the days when "You turkey!" was still a term of endearment, I'd fill it with college friends, and we'd push the car to the high school, where we'd beat each other senseless.

We played tackle, of course. To this day, probably the most American thing you can do is tackle someone. To pulverize an opponent on a football field will remain the ultimate act of male bonding.

They were pretty simple, those games. The sidelines were 10 jackets dropped in a row. The end zone was "somewhere over there." When it finally ended, you were lucky if you still had a functioning gall bladder.

As I grew older, and life began to make even less sense, I'd self-medicate with football. I covered Shula and Schnellenberger in Miami, but mostly I preferred to play the game, not watch it.

To this day, I run around every Sunday with a bunch of so-called friends. Lawyers on the one side, reporters on the other. It's the touch football equivalent of the Indians versus the Pilgrims. Sure enough, some of the guys are built like Bibles: sort of square with the wrath of God deep within.

Actually, that's me.

In one game last month — at "Little Lambeau," the scruffy schoolyard where we play — it rained the entire time. And the game still lasted a full two hours.

"We play rain or shine," my organizing e-mails insist. "But especially rain."

In our league, we used to huddle between plays, but that proved counterproductive. So we instituted the hurry-up offense since adopted by the University of Oregon. Do we get credit for this? Quack, no.

Eddie Cochems may or may not have invented the forward pass. But we definitely invented the forward fumble. Probably the only thing more fun to watch than one of our fumbles is a Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. Or puppies being born.

Men like us are pretty hopeless. We should come with air nozzles that say "do not overinflate." Our skin should be pebbled. Our living room carpets should be lined.

You may know football misfits like us. Currently in this country, there are only about 100 million.

So please know that you're in good company this Thanksgiving as you head out to your own Little Lambeau. Muscles will scream. Tempers will flare. The brother-in-law nobody really likes will prove once again why he's the brother-in-law nobody really likes.

When it is over, folks will say, "Never again. I retire."

And next year, folks will do it all again anyway.

Happy Thanksgiving, you turkeys.


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