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Gunnison, Colorado

Triumph and Tragedy

Thanksgiving Morning. November 22, 2012. Turkey Bowl. Gunnison, Colorado, USA, Earth. 9:13 am.  Maybe 9:15. Narrated by NFL Films’  John Facenda. Based on a real story with fictional content.

On the frozen tundra of Jorgensen Field a career was temporarily derailed.  But this is a story of triumph and tragedy….and chiropractic care, ice, MRIs, ben gay and vicodin, so much vicodin.

For Turkey Bowl is a flag-football tournament that comes only once a year.  Every Thanksgiving the entire town of 5,000, our at least 30-40 of them gather on this hallowed ground of a softball field converted for the use and the battle.

The making of this team started with a few phone calls with conversations like “Hey, we’re really short players, can you make it” and “Just borrow some cleats, god you’re pathetic.”

But when it was done, Garrison Garcia and I built a team, a team for the ages. A lineup like no other…

– Garrison “Danger” Garcia – golden shoes, golden smile, hands like golden bricks, underwhelming hair

– Erik “The Constant Consonant” Krywcrzk (anyone know the actual spelling, is there a vowel?) – Russian defector, constant effort, gorgeous hair, eye like deep pools of a gemstone I can’t think of, or maybe an alpine lake or something.

– Casey “Too Tall” Davis – taller than a mountain (and too tall for football apparently), ran like a old gazelle, a very old one, flowing sandy locks of pure heaven, could use braces

– Ashwin “Da Canuck” Patel – hair like a Kurdish rebel with the intensity to match, smelled of cumin, fought like a mongoose, ate like a….a thing that eats a lot

– Eric “I Think He’s Dating Garrison” Freson – lightning fast, great kisser according to Garrison, marginal hair, unremarkable eyes.

– The Kid – he was like a ghost, no one can remember his name, he wasn’t good, boring hair.

– Chris “Day Glo” Martinez – Maiden name, Jones. Married into a hispanic family. His hair, straight and glorious, much like his route running.

– And me Anthony “White Molasses” Poponi a name I believe I was given for my sure hands that stuck to everything. It might have another meaning, when I asked they laughed and wouldn’t tell me.

And we were (dramatic sound effects) “THE BEERS”, a storied name probably derived from the Gaelic term “bier”, a wooden frame which people were cremated or buried.  An apt name, for we buried many foes (at least two) and cremated many more (possibly 1, checking records). Our name also might have just mean beer, like the drink. It was probably just that, the drink.

We were an all-star team created from the ashes of former teams. Forgotten heroes, like “The Dispensables”, without the substantial earnings from earlier acting ventures.  We led the league in two things: busted plays and pulled hamstrings.

My teammates were gentlemen, students of the game (not necessarily football) and more importantly friends, at least two of them. They made me play offensive lineman, even though there wasn’t one in our flag football league.  But I was versatile – because when everyone else was busy and couldn’t make the game – I played every position: wide receiver, quarterback, running back with the heart and grace of a lineman.  People say I have deceptive speed.  Apparently I’m going a a lot slower than what my effort would indicate.

To the game….we were in control throughout the first half! Solid if unspectacular defense, mediocre on offense but our opponents were somehow worse. It actually baffles the mind.  Their star player was a three-time high-school dropout, drunkard, a linebacker in Pop Warner football, and one of the few people ever fired by Sonic. From there our opponents athleticism took a nose dive.  Clint, named used to offend the miscreant, had seen a football before but was known primarily for his foul mouth, his foul odor and his diet consisting entirely of fowl, in the form of chicken nuggets – the only food he ate, washed down with Mello Yello.  Wisco Wade was an enigma, wrapped in denim, and had stunning hair shoved under a cowboy hat and smelled of cheap whiskey, cheap women and coyote blood. Brian St.Greg was the outcast of the crew.  Dressed in lycra covering every color of the rainbow and doing calisthenics between plays he was constantly berated by his teammates for being a “wus” for refusing to drink Wild Turkey between plays.  Brian preferred energy drinks and the company of women – going through both like Clint went through four-letter words.

Late in the second half, we were ahead but the game was still in reach, one last defensive stop would be the difference.

And this, a 3rd and 3 was the one play that changed it all for me. The sweat rolled off my brow as I stepped to the line, there was a lot of sweat, and wheezing.  I was playing defensive back, not my normal position – usually a run-stuffing defensive tackle.  Our middle linebacker flashed X, a sign for press coverage and a blitz.  Our only defensive play, we knew it well.

I stepped forward to the wide receiver, press coverage – on an island no safety help, guarding a child, maybe 11.  Ball is snapped, pressure on the QB from Danger, his golden shoes glimmering in the November sun. A wobbly turkey (you know duck = it’s Thanksgiving) of a pass in my direction.  Changing direction and adjusting the flight of the ball, pulling at least two muscles in the process.

INT (That means interception sweetie, and that means. Forget it.)

Seeing frozen brown grass ahead of me and one man to beat, the opposing quarterback, I stepped on the gas, after 4 or  steps the tank was empty, real empty.  Evasive maneuvers! I faked a lateral to an invisible teammate,  it worked, the QB stumbled and slipped, leg’s splitting on the slick turf like a turkey wishbone. He was probably 60 but I made him look young.  Luckily his mis-step gave me just enough time to slip past and run, ok, jog heavily, walking fast at the end to the goal line where I unnecessarily dove for the pylon, coming up a yard short and landing on a sensitive area – so I crawled to the pylon in tears of joy and pain for I had done it…..

Pick-6 (Sweetie – this is when a defender intercepts the ball and….forget it)

The crowd went wild, tens of people cheering, some staring off at the distance or texting on their phones – or calling ESPN.  But that pick-6 sealed the game – and as it turns out, my flag-football career.

Hitting the hardened earth put a beating (much like my father used to do, sniff) on me.

Later that night at Thanksgiving, listening to drunk Uncle Stephen talk about breasts – I limped heavily back to the dinner table, a plate loaded with thirds (offensive lineman must keep their weight up) I realized this injury was different.  After a couple of weeks of icing, ibuprofen and a dozen sailor’s worth of rations Dark and Stormy’s and no progress I saw a doctor.

Immediately he knew what my problem was.  He looked me in the eye, stone cold expression.  “It’s called it A.G.E.,” looking away quickly. Obviously uncomfortable with what he knew would come next.

I couldn’t understand his diagnosis, I’d never heard of it.  I said “Doctor, give it to me straight.  Spell it out.”

He said, seemingly irritated “A. G. E., age.”

“What’s the cure?” I said, scrambling like Eric Mxyzptlk on a botched end around.

“There is no cure, ice it daily, take some Aleve,” and he left, walk away laughing and shaking his head like the first few girls I ever asked out.

I’ve spent much time since researching this mysterious disease, “A.G.E” and found almost nothing. No cure, no hope.  A limp reminder (not that kind of limp, everything’s good there) of what could have been.

Who knows where I’d be now if it weren’t for this condition.  Over time my A.G.E continues to grow and hampers my ability to do so many of the normal things I did in my youth. Now squatting hurts, excessive flatulence, leering at young women and the inevitable and continued self-medication through excessive drinking.

From this experience I’ve learned to not take life for granted, live every moment to its fullest while you’re young before something takes away your youth like A.G.E. to away mine.