Saturday, May 27, 2006

Friday Night Lights

I was once a decent soccer player. Never a prolific goal scorer, at my peak, I could nevertheless defend along with the best of them. About 5 years ago I began playing with a group of guys in the city, friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend kind of thing, and the next thing you know we're playing together at least twice a week in two different leagues. We played mostly 6v6 on Friday nights at a rooftop field with a great view of downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, and 11 a side on Sundays up in Harlem. We were young, at least not old yet, and somewhat in shape. Over the years, the roster of players changed, and some of the cachet of playing with, and then going out drinking with the same guys every week wore off.

About a year ago, the not no-so-25-year-old version of myself volunteered to fill in for a missing player in a 7v7 Tuesday night league. I took a brutal kick to the shin, right on the side of the shinguard, that left a tennis-ball-sized welt on my leg. X-rays were negative, but I still have a bruise 12 months later, and hadn't played since.

Thursday afternoon, Gavin, the long time team captain, sent out an email desperately looking for a few more players for Friday night's game. Hmmm.. Weather? nice. Other obligations? None. Conditioning? Non-existent. List of players coming? Old school! It looked like almost our original team scheduled to play! I had to be there...

"Gav, I have to tell you - there's a remote chance I could play, but, no exaggeration, I get tired walking up the steps when I come out of the subway - I'm strictly an extra body to give someone else a breather," I responded.

"Rubbish - just come, none of us are fit," Gavin shot back, never failing to use a quirky Euro-term.

When I found out Friday's forecast called for massive thunderstorms, I hedged myself, "Gavin, I'm not playing if it rains hard."

"Your skin was meant to withstand rain," he wasn't in the mood for my whining.

"Yeah, but my skills weren't - I'm not going down with a pulled hammy from slipping on a wet field," I'm a total pussy, and although I enjoy kicking around with a group of guys I've known for years, I KNOW I'm out of shape, and do not need a Friday Night Injury.

Friday afternoon and evening turned out to be beautiful, but as I checked my email before the game, I realized that we were playing 8 on 8, on a full field, and that one possible teammate had just bailed, leaving us with only 8 players. Uh oh.

In a strange turn of events, Eric happened to be in New York, and I immediately called him, telling him that if he didn't come to the game, I was even money to be carted off with a heart condition.

As we arrived one by one at the field, the entrance of each player put a smile on everyone's face. Will? Will is here??! Holy crap. Kevin! Kid Dynamite? Dave! Josh! Good to see you! Unreal - this is like our vintage 2003 championship team. When Eric strolled in, we all just started laughing - it was like the old days - nothing had changed.

We ran around the field warming up, complaining of sore backs and tight hammy's, and placing bets on who'd have what injury. In the game, we took a 3-0 lead, dominating like the days of yore, before sportingly allowing our opponents to gain a ray of hope. 3-1. 10 minutes later, 3-2. Jeez, how long are these fucking halfs - 45 minutes? 22 minutes, I'm told, but I'd lay 5-1 odds we played at least 35 minute halfs. They tied the game 3-3, before we put it away with two late goals for a 5-3 victory. Of course, the game wouldn't be complete without me deciding I was going to make a run up the right wing, receiving a perfect pass from Gavin, and whiffing on a one-timer attempt, jamming my right leg in the process, and going down like I was shot. My right knee straightened, and the entire weight of my not-so-1996-fit body jammed into it, as I collapsed in a heap.

As I lay on the ground in agony, I could hear two of my friends laughing at my horrific goal scoring attempt, not realizing that I was actually hurt. People talk about "hearing a pop" when they tear their ACL. I tried to think - did I hear a pop? I think it was more of a crunch. I can flex my knee - maybe that's a good sign. "Usually if you tear your ACL or MCL, you can still move your knee," Eric crushes my optimism.

After the game, we used to go out drinking for hours at a local restaurant, Brothers BBQ, who eventually agreed to generously sponsor a few of our seasons. Nowadays, we limp home, puppies and babies in hand, and settle in to watch High Stakes Poker reruns, with Eric (who apparently lives in a log cabin with no tv or something, because he's the only poker player I know who watches absolutely ZERO poker on tv) analyzing every hand out loud, relishing the action like a kid on Christmas Day.

So, here I am, not sure how badly my knee is hurt, unable to walk on it, and not eager to go to the ER on Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. Hopefully, it's not a torn ligament or something like that, but I've been lucky enough to have avoided knee problems throughout my athletic career, so I really don't know - all I know is that I can't walk. Fuck.

getting old,

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