Sunday Gladiators

A friend remarked to me yesterday that she'd like to unbuckle the chin strap on a football helmet. Just once. This mundane gesture was emblematic of an entire unrealized life. It was too late for us. None of us would ever know the anxiety of teetering between victory and defeat, nor the unmatched validation of triumph over worthy opponents. Opponents, never enemies.

We had missed our opportunities to test ourselves in a public form, not only as singular men or women, but as a unit. A collection of men and women, who together, form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. I wish I had not written off athletic competition when I was young. That snotty kid cost himself big in ways I'm still discovering. We invest nothing and receive nothing in return. But these men, worthy of praise and love, know first hand the glory of sport. They are gladiators and gods, but all of them human.

Minutes left, trailing, and retreating to a huddle, a stoic general outlines his plan. His men are exhausted and bloody; their uniforms soiled; each summoning images of their youth and what drove them here. Glory. Fame. Their father's love. Each haunted by old ghosts, his failures and triumphs.  They face a pressure few truly understand. They look deep within and find strength and composure under scrutiny.

They belong to one another, a family on frozen tundra. Implicit trust. They belong to a team. 

A man unbuckles his chin strap, looks to his captain and declares, "I've got your back."


  1. Though we understand and sympathize with the sentiment (how many hours have we wasted not honing our discus skills), don't overlook the constant hazing and pranks! You should see what the Mathletes do to each other. They're sick.

  2. I was a Mathlete. It's not the same.