Unremarkable? I can’t hear you over the screaming!
That would be a good summation of my soccer career.
Like any child of the ’80s, soccer was my gateway sport, the first offering of parks and schools for uncompetitive competition. Follow the ball, don’t use your hands, run until you get distracted by a patch of daisies or a barking dog.
My kicking, dribbling, passing. All unremarkable. But what I lacked in foot-eye coordination, I made up for in philosophical questions.
In 4th Grade — the year before the sporting floodgates opened in middle school — I stood on the pitch mid-match, incredulous that the kick-off had to go backwards. Go back to advance? Too much thinking for my 10-year-old mind.
Remarkably, 4th Grade was not the conclusion of my soccer career. After entering seminary, I came out of retirement. Rest assured, the announcement, like the play, was unremarkable.
As the world’s game, soccer was king during my four years in Rome. Or was it a princely cardinal? Each year students from different national colleges competed in the Clericus Cup, vying for a saturno-wearing soccer ball and a dip in the fountain of youth.
In the end, my mind was depositing second collection checks my body couldn’t cash. Competition has a way transforming unremarkable memories into hopeful heroics. I know so much more now. I was just a kid back then. I’m still in pretty good shape!
Transubstantiation, though, is reserved for Communion. Not even the Clericus Cup could make a soccer player out of me.
Rather than growing a long-hidden skillset, I only developed a deeper dislike for the ball. As in, the circular white object itself. My favorite practice drills were our warm-up runs — anything missing the kicking and praying. When you find yourself excited for “suicides,” it’s time to find yourself a retirement note.
My unremarkable soccer career ended again, after one season and a few error-filled minutes of play.
But from the seed of unremarkability, even a remarkable bloom can come. (Write that down parents!)
Enjoying the weekly diversion from the chapel-school-chapel routine, I decided to direct my energies in a different direction: the North American Martyrs Booster Club. Or the collection of folks who had nothing else to do on Saturday morning than watching rec league soccer.
We made promotional signs, coordinated costumes, came up with player-specific cheers. Try explaining to Italian journalists a G-rated reason for a midfielder’s “Slaughterhouse” nickname or providing the charitable presumption for a plastic Oscar statue raised aloft when an opposing player is maimed by a blade of grass. And then try doing so without laughing.
We would gather around an electric grill and feast on whatever grocery hotdogs we could find. We would line up for a cheer-tunnel after a victory over the British College (very few Anglo vocations to choose a squad from) or a defeat to the Legionnaires of Christ (very many robot vocations to program a squad from). We would go home, celebrate Mass, and then do it all again the next week.
Under my watch, the Booster Club became something unrivaled in seminary circles, even if the team itself never quite made it to the promised land. We never took home the championship. (There is nothing heavier in the world than black trash bags full of champagne after a championship loss.)
I was an unremarkable player, but I was a remarkable fan.
Which brings me to today — or at least to Coach Sean Payton’s Halloween press conference.
Possibly serving up a post-game trick to the Who Dat Nation — or just airing some grievances for the boos he received after three-straight fourth quarter passes — Payton had a remarkable point amid a fourteen-minute press conference.
Jameis is hurt. Brady is beaten. Siemian is who?
No, there was something else the coach had to get off his chest. Unprovoked, amid his end-of-game recap, Coach Payton piped up: “And I think our crowd needs to be a little louder, if you want to ask me, on third down. I think we’ve had two home games that have been [pregnant pause] unremarkable, if you want to know the truth.”
Un. Re. Mark. Able.
In the first cheer-worthy home game since the Kyle Rudolph push-off-separation td in early 2020, the Who Dats were too passive. As though the fans were the fourth quarter play-caller against the Giants last month — the technical first but not quite cheer-worthy home game since Covid.
Jen and I sat lower than normal for the Bucs game. We knew the passion of the rafters, but other than an exit free from escalator jams, what would a game closer to the field be like? Moist towelettes? Stock tips? Cup holders??
If anything, the only difference was the noise level.
It’s even louder closer to the field.
Fans stood on defense and sat on offense. And when third down came, Mark Romig’s extended syllables told us something we already knew — if we had been able to hear him at all over the screaming.
A capacity costumed crowd, filled with drinks and emptied of masks, the Who Dat Nation put on a show Sunday. Sixty minutes of football that felt like twenty months of life ago. Electric. Joyous. Remarkable.
Remarkably, though, Coach Payton didn’t hear all that — but did perk up at the small smattering of run-the-clock boos at the end of the game.
When the Falcons come to town Sunday and try to tackle Taysom’s veer offense, we’ll be back at it, yelling and screaming and sweating. Remarkably.
Trust me. I was an unremarkable athlete but am an internationally remarkable fan.
This is a rough weekend. Save me that extra hour of sleep, and give me back my daylight’s saving! Sunday ends our thirty four-week stretch of lighter, later evenings. And if it’s hard for us adults to bear, just try explaining it to children and their new 5am alarms. We can survive eighteen weeks, right? We can survive anything, Until then, keep soaking in the sun.