On a November day dusted in cinnamon, on a field that looks like leftover salad, we gather again for football. There is bloodlust and bargain aftershave in the air.
Welcome to the Daddy League.
There are no huddles. No plays. Instead of penalties, we just argue a lot. As with an eight-person Supreme Court, there are no decisions. Sometimes, we forget the score.
We left all our moves back in the 1970s -- if we had any in the first place. Most of us didn't. We just love football and late autumn days where the sunlight rolls in sideways.
"Best two hours of the week," my buddy Russ insists.
Yeah? For our chiropractors maybe. Thing is, despite the aches and pains, we still like to pal around. It is the cheapest, most-underrated activity, to pal around with old friends who celebrate the laughs more than the TDs.
The whole thing started 15-plus years ago, after our sons and daughters aged out of youth sports. We needed a way to pal around without the structure of a soccer or baseball league. We needed an excuse to dodge Sunday yard work and suburban life.
So, we created this Sunday League. We call our field Little Lambeau. We call each other by our nicknames: T-Bone, Goldfingers, Millertime, Murph, Commie. If there is a reigning joy to my life, it's my children and this collection of quirky old friends.
Sure, we've had our issues, even fights. But if someone ever played an anthem, I assure you we'd all stand.
Know what's underrated? Middle age. We are a nation smitten with the milky glow of youth. With fresh-faced cluelessness. But for companionship -- for authenticity -- give me middle age.
For a while, some new players started making the league younger, faster and better. Naturally, this had everyone a little concerned.
"Funny," my older son noted, "that the worse you guys play, the more fun you seem to have."
That's why middle age works for me. Give me adults who have lived a little, lost a little and bounced back from the brink a few times.
Yeah, for a good time, give me middle age.
This week marks 60 laps around the sun for me. Sixty is pretty sexy, of course. Sixty is AARP discounts, cruise ships and cholesterol tests. Sixty is forgetting why you entered the room, the number of that first baseman, the name of that girl you worshiped back in high school.
So what? I made 60, with most of my brain cells, four awesome kids and friends like this, standing around this field like candles on a cake -- melting.
"Remember, today is all we've really got," I tell them.
"But I said that yesterday too."
Still, at this age, we keep receiving reminders of our mortality. One buddy, ET, is dealing with some serious health issues. He is all deep-throated self-assurance and optimism -- till he talks about the kids, both teens, who he fears will never know him as adults.
Godspeed, ET. Someone answer this prayer.
More often, there are less severe ups and downs -- the muck of failed relationships, the career setbacks you never saw coming.
Last week, another friend lost his long-standing TV gig. In his living room, there are a dozen beautiful roses from his girlfriend. That surprised me. Since he is an on-air guy, I told him I assumed he'd sent them to himself.
"Dear me," the card would read. "Tremendous show tonight. I love you!!!"
That's what friends do. They make us laugh at ourselves … acknowledge the flaws … help us soldier on.
As a talisman to that, I hope this silly league lasts. I suspect that eventually, we'll be the first touch football league where nurses are allowed on the field and the quarterback relies on an aluminum walker.
That doesn't mean we'll go easy. We'll still blitz in important situations, pounce on fumbles and body roll into the quarterback's knobby knees.
Note that we once had a final score of 126-110. Obviously, we pride ourselves on our defense. The average age of the cornerbacks is 55. Some games, we take timeouts just to massage our own livers.
Want to know where else it hurts? Everywhere. And if you leave, and your ribs don't ache from laughing, then you've missed the entire point.
So, for a while, this crazy league will carry on. I give it 50 years, max … on autumn afternoons dusted in cinnamon, on fields sprinkled with friends.