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NFL Week One, Chris Borland and My Changing Relationship with Football

Former NFL Linebacker Chris Borland Celebrates

Something in me has changed. Maybe it’s the cumulative effect of a few factors. But, more likely, it was one. Week one of what has long been one of my most cherished “man holidays” has come and (nearly) gone. And, to be honest, I don’t feel the same way about the game. I wonder if I ever will, which is really unbelievable to comprehend, let alone capture in writing.

I grew up watching, playing and loving the game of football. From elementary school through college, I played the game. And I truly believe there is no other team sport that can replace the experience of playing football. Yes, queue up all the cliches. Character-building. Sacrifice. The meaning of team. Does the physicality of it intensify those feelings beyond what you get from lacing it up on the hardwood or trotting out on the diamond with teammates? Perhaps. The two-a-days, hitting a sled next to three guys all pushing forward. Hell weeks and road trips. Mud. Sweat. Shared pain. Triumph. Heartbreak. It all somehow comes together in a singular, powerful force through interaction with this game.

So, as someone who played, loved and appreciated everything football did for me, as a person, it would be of no surprise that I’d continue to enjoy watching, following and embracing the game every Saturday and Sunday. But that Chris Borland ESPN the Magazine article got a hold of me. For decades, and certainly since the earliest musings on this blog, I’ve been of a common voice. The red-blooded American male. FOOOOTBALLL!! I’ve questioned changing rules. I’ve bemoaned the “wussification” of the game (and even used a different lead consonant) as further evidence of a declining society. I dreamed of the day if I ever bore a son that we would “lock and load” and take to the field. This was the blog that aimed to harken back to that blissful era when it was “OK to hit the quarterback.”

My voice and thinking has changed. For the first time in my life, I seriously question whether if I had welcomed a son, instead of two daughters, what might I have done if he wanted to play ball like his daddy starting at age seven or eight. Would I refuse? And, if not then, when would I pull out the stop sign? At what point would the cease and desist decree need to be initiated? Chris Borland got to me. The article, if you have not comes across it (or missed it), should be required reading. It is entitled “Why former 49er Chris Borland is the most dangerous man in football.” It is about his decision to retire. It is about his rationale for doing so. It is also about his intelligence, his clarity, his lack of grandstanding and his almost-disarming logic.

Sure, it’s about concussions a bit. It is, and it’s not. Moreso, the piece makes you think. It’s “scary,” because it demands attention from anyone who considers themselves to have a decent head on their shoulders. Folks who might inherently question how a game where men try to knock one another’s heads off those aforementioned shoulders is sane…sanctioned…celebrated with a disturbing zeal.  Of course, such spectacle is time-honored. The stuff of ancient gladiators. There is great beauty in the game too. The colliding of punishment and poetry. The meshing of devising and destroying. Intelligence mixed with arguable insanity. I say this with absolute sincerity and conviction.

It’s why I’m certainly conflicted. I’ve not “quit football.” Hell, I’ve got the second of a MNF double dip on in the background on mute. But, Mr. Borland has made me think, and it’s changed the viewing. On Sunday afternoon, I took the trip to MetLife to watch my beloved Jets. I thought about the Borland piece there. I screamed through the pyrotechnics and pomp and circumstance of introductions. I elevated my voice to fever pitch on each and every third down. Then, not too deep into the game, I watched as Josh McCown got helicoptered around like a flying pinata. Ball loose. Jets possession. Momentum shifts. In the play’s wake, McCown slowly — and undoubtedly dazed– saunters to the locker room. Not long after, an injury update flashes on the board. It’s familiar and expected. McCown. Browns. OUT. Head. Fans barely pay attention.

Later, as a fumble lies loose during second half action, Jets rookie Lorenzo Maudlin is alternately buried and pelted beneath a pile at the bottom of a scrum, an event that is frightening based on even the mildest descriptions from ex-players. Moments later he tries to stand. Instead, he wobbles and collapses. Crumples would be another fitting word choice. For the next 10 minutes, he lies motionless on the turf. Eventually, he’ll be strapped to a backboard.

The player whose story has all of Jet nation behind him. 12 foster homes. Untold obstacles. Now, or at least for a few quarters, his NFL dream realized. I am conflicted. Football probably saved Maudlin. Those skills and things I mentioned at the top that help you grow, allowed him to “make it.” Then, no movement. He’ll get carted away. Silence turns to cheers. A brief pause. As soon as he’s in the tunnel, most of the crowd has moved on. I mean, come on, the Jets have a first down in the red zone. Focus, people. Focus.

Later, Maudlin’s injury updated flashes on the board, as if necessary. OUT. Head. Neck.

Turns out, his injury is “only” has a concussion. Thank goodness is the likely sentiment from Jets fans. Sure, they are delighted it wasn’t worse. More importantly, this means he can likely be back on the field in a week or two. After all, we need to get after the quarterback. And the rookie linebackers has shown flashes.

It’s not constant, but the whisper in my head is loud enough to be noticed. It makes me top every once in awhile. Makes you think less about players and more about mercenaries. Mercenaries who millions play with as fantasy pawns. Stats on a page. Should it be that way? I don’t know. I’m still conflicted. But Chris Borland changed me. And I’m starting to think that could be a good thing.

3 Comments

  1. Rahel

    December 4, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Glad to see The Sound getting their due from new fans. Great post, just want to make a comemnt on why they might not have gotten as much acclaim as they deserved.Sound fans like myself are always saying they should have gotten the same recognition as Echo and the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, Simple Minds, etc. But good and underrated as they were, I think there’s a reason for this three in fact:1) Song Structure. Too unadventurous compared to, say, Bunnymen, who in the early ’80s released a string of varied and unpredictable singles. Each one was like an event and demanded you pay attention: Cutter, Killing Moon, etc. I hasten to say here that I am NOT a big Bunnymen fan but they deserve credit for being risk-takers. Most songs by The Sound have similar structure.2) Singing. Borland’s voice was better than Curtis’s, McCulloch’s, Kerr’s and Butler’s and any other post-punk singer for that matter. So good that he could go directly to the emotion with none of the mannerisms of the competition. But mannerism was part of the success formula in those days it let you off the hook and could attract the dollars of casual listeners. It also provided a gimmick, an angle. Borland is too sincere, too plausible. We love him for it but not everyone was going to bite.3) Attitude. Apparently, the band rebelled when their label told them to be more commericial. Other bands found creative ways to align their artistic and commercial interests. You won’t go anywhere if you don’t do that. Paul Kelly

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