Yesterday, my hometown football team defeated their Thanksgiving rivals in quintuple overtime of a messy mud bowl, which we watched from the comfort of my parents' living room on local cable access.
We tuned in to a mind-bogglingly professional--and yet also charmingly inept--broadcast, which featured both embedded on-screen interviews with a town patriarch about Thanksgivings past and a variety of blurry, prismed, rainy shots through lenses no one seemed to think of wiping off. Our team was ahead by one point. Both teams had won significantly less than a majority of their 10 regular-season games, and thus this particular Thanksgiving contest was something of a "toilet bowl" as we call it.
I had also been warned in advance by my father that this year's Thanksgiving game was probably not going to be the easy march to victory it had been for the Lions in years past (not that, in years past, I cared or even understood the fate of my hometown football squad). But by the time the Lions took a two-score lead over the rival Indians (to our unanimous surprise, no one has sued over this team name yet), my father, a former coach of the hometown team himself, was smug.
"That's why your turkey's gonna taste like shit," he taunted the filthy, muddy rival players, somewhat nonsensically.
Karma quickly came back to bite him in the ass. The Indians scored twice, the second time on a completely impossible tangled mess of a play in which the Indians quarterback was all but tackled by literally every member of the Lions' starting 11, and somehow managed to scramble free. The defenders thus occupied, he finally managed to break out of the muddy scrum long enough to loft a forty-some-odd yard pass downfield, where it was caught by a wideout waiting there in total solitude, who ran it the rest of the way in all but unopposed to tie the score.
"You gotta be shittin' me!" my dad cried, in a tone of blended incredulity and admiration. In the end, much as I may share my exasperation with him over this, my dad admires a good play, whether made by Lion or Indian, Red Sox or Yankee, Patriot or Indianapolis Colt.
And thus began five periods of overtime, in which the absurdity only increased.
Under the rules at this level, kind of a bastardization of the NCAA rules of overtime, there is no sudden death, but a series of alternating attempts to score from the ten yard line. Once a touchdown is scored, the team must go for a two-point conversion. If they fail to score a touchdown on four downs or fail to tack on the two-point conversion, they must hope that the other team fails similarly when it comes time for their turn.
This, it turns out, is exactly what happened in yesterday's Turkey Day Classic at Alumni Field. The Lions scored, then failed on the two points. The Indians matched them. Then a new period of overtime began. Neither team scored; another new period of overtime.
"Sweet suffering Jesus," my dad barked at the TV as round after round, the groups of exhausted high school boys returned to the line of scrimmage to continue the bitter stalemate. It was really almost too desperate, too earnest a struggle to watch. For those of us who are now alumni of this high school and graduates of adolescence as well, the raw energy and enthusiasm of the players was a bittersweet thing to see; I know I, for one, remember all too vividly when the walls of the school building up the hill from Alumni Field were the extent of the universe, and what went on within the borders of this hometown the extent of what I knew about life. And that I have since discovered how limited that perspective was--and how blessed that limitation. Really, how blessed.
That's when my father, the man who just an hour before had been taunting adolescents about the quality of their turkey waiting at home, declared, "This ought to be a tie." It seems the further a sport gets from the professional--whether OSU vs. Michigan or Lions v. Indians--the more passionate my dad is about it; here he actually has stood on that very same sideline in previous chapters of the Thanksgiving rivalry, and so for him to be prepared to concede the game to a tie was significant.
But then finally, the Lions scored their 53rd point in the fifth episode of overtime, and the Indians were just barely unable to answer it. A pass from the quarterback to a wide receiver for the two-point conversion bounced into and out of the young man's hands, and then the Lions and their soggy supporters were mobbing the field in the funhouse of the wet local access camera lens.
"That's just too bad," my dad said, watching his team--our team--celebrate while the dejected Indians sloshed off the field. "I feel so bad for those kids. It shoulda been a tie."