Football and Family

by Bryan

I’m supposed to play football later today, but it’s pouring out, so that’s not going to happen. Too bad, because it was the first football I was set to play this year…

It’s really amazing how much football I’ve played in my life. Or “football,” the game involving sprinting (but not running plays), passing and, formerly, tackling. The tackling thing seemed to let up once I graduated college, mostly because I wasn’t playing with the boys from home anymore. Geez, I’m *that* guy now, aren’t I? That’s okay. It’s reading “that guys” like me when I was younger that made me want to play in the first place more than watching games on TV. Those sure didn’t hurt, though.

It’s amazing how much stock I put into the football games of my youth. And how much I wanted to be better than Bruce Gray at quarterback. The great thing is, he wanted to be better than me more than I wanted to beat him. And he still does! Bruce, if you read this, I’m coming for you the next time I’m on MV for the holidays. Sadly, that won’t be any time soon.

Bruce seems pretty hard up for these games, and I can sympathize. I can sympathize because I’m the exception that proves the rule. For the last seven years, I’ve been playing football pretty much every weekend in the fall. One of my best friends from college (ornery commenter MZA) is from and lives in Queens, and his group of friends decided, effectively, never to grow up. I used to lobby this as an accusation, but I mean it now as praise. Now that the games are largely over, with the driving force having moved to L.A., I know what I am missing. Overgrown children, all of us, it was probably about time. Even without tackling, the cold ground takes a toll on your body.

Okay, I’m getting self-indulgent. But the truth is, the act of even picking up a football is laden with meaning for me. I can’t hold one without thinking of it as the means—the only one that matters—of defeating my brothers in a way that they will recognize, respect, and feel in their soul. We all think we’re better than each other; take the Voltaggio brothers from Top Chef, add a third one, and you’ve pretty much got the idea (I mean, my name is Bryan and my brother’s middle name is Michael. Another Voltagii connection). Those brothers had to move 3,000 miles away from each other. Watching them in action, it’s clear that their competitive instincts are so paramount in their lives that they easily dominate them. One of my brothers lives in London, I live in New York, and the other lives in Phoenix. Draw your own conclusions. Until Top Chef shed light on it, I hadn’t fully realized that the need to beat them was so dominant in my life. Football is the only place where we agree to battle.

But: back to football. One of my brothers is the most exceptionally talented athlete who never played organized sports that I’ve ever known. By far. His skills translate so amazingly into football that it’s clear, abundantly so, to anyone who watches that he could have played at least in college. The high school coach used to ask him every day when he was joining the team. My brother simply had no interest. Why? Beating me was the only important thing. After that, there was nothing left to prove. The other is far younger, played lacrosse in college, and is in peak physical shape. This is a fact: I’m better than both of them. I know it in my heart because it is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to know. You could make a serious argument that it is the most important thing in my life. Every time I pick up a football, though, I get that glimmer of doubt. That, more than anything, is the reason why it’s probably time to hang them up.