I'll always remember the first football game I ever played as a starting running back. It was 4th grade. Since my home city of St. Paul didn't have a competitive youth league back then, I played for Roseville's youth interleague system, in which a number of Roseville teams just played against each other. I played in 3rd grade as well, but that was the year I only played middle linebacker and had (somehow I remember this) a coach that didn't know any more about football than I did. And I was a little kid who had never played before! In 4th grade, my coach observed that I was one of the fastest kids on the team. So then, he tried me at running back during practice and it goes well enough for me to stick with it. Our first game was coming up on Saturday, and the nervousness began to sink in before my heightened duties.
Saturday arrived and the quarterback called everyone in to announce the first offensive play of the game. Sure enough, he called a hand off play to me. Before I knew it, there I was, standing in the end zone. What? I didn't even know what to do. I handed the ball to the ref and got off the field until my coach threw me back in for the extra point I didn't know existed. In summary, the center snapped the ball, the quarterback handed it to me, I ran around the corner, turned left and continued for 80 more yards into the end zone without being touched. On our next drive, we tried a few different things involving other players until they decided to hand it off to me again. Touchdown. "Is this football or track" I must have wondered, because no one could touch me, much less tackle. The exact sequence of the remainder of the game is a bit foggy to me, but I remember without a doubt that I was handed the ball two more times. What did I do in my next two attempts? Touchdown, followed by touchdown. After we won, I remember sitting in the back seat of my dad's van on the way home, wondering to myself "is this what it feels like to be bound for the NFL?" I don't blame myself, either. We've all heard of baseball pitcher's having perfect games, and how difficult that is. But football players? Running backs? I was handed the ball four times, and each time landed me in the end zone. I went the entire game as a running back, the position that gets tackled the most, without being tackled at all, not even once.
And thus, was the end of my football playing days...
Or was it?
This past week, a couple of my friends invited me to join them in our University flag football club's welcome party. The field, or "oval", as Aussies like to call it, is located in gorgeous Mawson Lakes, the same site of my aviation courses at UniSA. A series of small buildings and strip malls constitute this quaint area until the shops give way for man-made lakes, fountains, and sculptures. One can almost see the amount of effort and precision it must have taken to build the area up in such an aesthetically pleasing way. If this place is an album, it's Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. Beautiful, ambitious, sparkly, yet characterized by an underlying sense of it all not being possible without ridiculously expensive production.
By the end of the day, I was a part of another team, "5 Star Service" and successfully penetrated the social bounds of an Australian clique. In order to garner notice from them, now my teammates, I made what was admittedly a spectacular interception in our own end zone that sealed our win for the scratch match. All of this, I preceded simply by walking onto the field and playing, which was preceded by sitting on a train, which was preceded by whatever else I did that Wednesday, which was preceded by waking up.
"Oh, sh*t! This bloke can catch!" Chris turned to me after I came down with the same ball the opposing quarterback had just thrown. "What's your name, mate?"
"Thomas, but just call me Tommy."
"Damn mate, where did you learn how to play like that?"
I looked down at the brown ball sitting quietly in the grass, its white teeth sticking out in a grin, as if knowing what I'm about to say next.
Then, in in my unapologetically American accent, I for some reason decided to say, "United States, mate."
Laughter in the dead of the night.