Bonded by Touch (Football)

Recently, a local touch football game produced the following: a sprained knee, a twisted ankle, and a busted finger.

Nothing unusual about that perhaps, except that the combined ages of the three guys sporting those injuries was 173.

These are the guys I play touch football with every Sunday between Labor Day and Memorial Day, and have done so for nearly 20 years.

My grown children and my girlfriend gently suggest nearly every week that it might be a good idea for a guy in his 60s with two artificial hips and one side of his body in constant pain to consider not playing a game better suited to people 40 years younger.

I know that, I tell them, insisting I am not an idiot (despite evidence to the contrary). I just love to play.

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In fact, those 2 ½ hours every Sunday morning may be the only time the pain subsides, or I am at least distracted enough not to dwell on it.

It is 2 ½ hours playing a young man's game with grandfathers, guys who run businesses and foundations, with a chiropractor (a fortuitous teammate to have given our list of injuries) and even with a few guys in their 30s who have developed a kind of grudging respect for us old men out there huffing and puffing our way through pass patterns as memories of high school flash through our enfeebled minds.

We are, these mornings, not grey haired (if we're lucky) or balding former athletes who should be scouting assisted living prospects rather than trying to sprint down a makeshift field with traffic cones and towels as yard and end zone markers.

For that brief time on Sunday, we are weekend warriors who vividly remember our glory days, even if we can't recall yesterday's breakfast

We are Andy, about to turn 60 who still has enough of an arm that we call him Eli (not that comparison to the Giants quarterback is always flattering.) We are Chuck, the former college baseball star who at 65 dares the young guys to keep up with him. We are Bobby, who along with his degrees from Harvard and Yale is still able to fake and juke his way past defenders.

We are Joe (me), who despite the artificial hips and compressed vertebrae that make a Percocet a pre-game requirement, still has the sure hands of youth (as the rest of my body deteriorates, I like to think that my hands compensate, much as a blind person is rumored to have better hearing.)

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Some of us are friends off the field, though most of us get together just once a week for this inane ritual of giving old age the middle finger, knowing that it will have the last laugh.

We show up. We warm up. We play. We drink a beer or two afterwards, still on the field. We mock each other. We encourage each other. We ask about each other's kids. Because we range from 35 to 70, for many of us, it provides a rare glimpse into the goings on of another generation.

Since we've been doing this since the mid 90s, we have seen many changes in each other and each other's families. The little kid who used to accompany dad to the game now and then has graduated from college. The spouse we all thought was well-suited to you is now gone, divorced and remarried.

Mostly, we play touch football. Fist bumps after a nice catch. Arguments about whether someone's nice catch was in bounds or out of bounds (we never seem to be able to line up the cones properly, so "bounds" usually become a judgment call settled when someone says, "the hell with it. Let's just play.")

For the most part, the people I call good friends are people I knew when I was in my 20s and 30s. It has been a rare event for me to make a close friend after 50.

The guys I play football with on Sundays are all people I like - even the perennially annoying ones - and a few of them I regard as friends.

More than friendship, however, we are bonded by the juvenile experience of running around a local patch of grass 2 ½ hours a week, pretending to be better athletes than we are, and maybe ever were.

Until I can't walk from my car to the field, it is a bond I won't give up, no matter how much pain I am in.