The conversation usually goes like this:
Kid 1: “So, what sports do you play?”
Me: “Well, I play baseball and football, and I used to swim.”
Kid 1: “Oh, cool! What position do you play in football?”
Me: “Left guard.”
Kid 1: “Oh.”
Usually, at this point, I offer some bland explanation that my job is to move those big guys on defense out of the way and to protect the quarterback — but most importantly to my (ever-so) patient listener: No, I do not touch the ball.
That’s the point where the conversation normally ends.
Every once in a while, though, I’ll find someone that is kind enough to go a little bit further, asking me what exactly I do. Again, what I say is something along the lines of this:
Me: “Oh, you know. I make sure nobody touches the quarterback and make sure the running back has an open hole to run through.”
What I usually want to say is more along the lines of:
Me: “My job is to physically abuse the guy across from me. I’ve had people step on my feet with their cleats, leaving my feet assorted shades of black and blue. I’ve been knocked to my knees, and say nothing about scrapes other than, ‘Hey J.J. (Our equipment manager)! I need some tape!’ I’ve had my fingers smashed, my ribs crashed by helmets, and accept the fact that bruises coat my forearms. I’ve come home from practice tired, sore, and look like I took a shower and forgot to dry off. And you know what else? I love it.”
I can only imagine that kid’s response.
Kid 1: “Why?”
That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
I’m not going to mince words, here: Football is a brutal, brutal sport. I’ve heard many coaches say that it isn’t a contact sport, but a collision sport. Boy, did they hit the nail on the head.
It’s especially so at my position.
While the running back dances upfield and away from the outstretched fingers of defenders, or the quarterback lofts a perfect spiral into his receiver’s fingertips, I’m slamming into the equivalent of moving refrigerators (if, you know, refrigerators could hit you back and throw you aside).
Then why do I do it?
I do it for the feeling you get after practice ends and coach says that we “won the day.” To know that day’s assortment of bumps and bruises equaled a step in the right direction is a kind of satisfaction hard to define.
On the flip side, the declaration that “we didn’t have a good day today” carries an equally negative feel to it.
I do it for the opportunity to bond together with a bunch of guys with different lives, personalities and attitudes. We joke with each other, tease each other, fight each other, fight for each other.
I do it for the impact I feel I can make in the community; for the chance to enter an elementary school to read to kids on game day and see the reverent stares from the kids as I walk through the hall to my class; for the feeling right after the national anthem, when I realize just how much this team means to the city and how honored I am to be a part of it; for the unbridled joy after a win that motivates me to scale the wall of the student section and take part in a raucous rendition of our school fight song.
Then, get ready to do it all over again next week.
If that makes me crazy, I can live with that.
Mike Ginocchio is a senior on the Buccaneers' varsity football team which recently finished the regular season with an 8-1 record. Grand Haven hosts Grand Ledge in the opening round of the Division 1 state playoffs on Friday.