Oct 21, 2008

Chill Article - Look But Don't Touch Football

(Note: for those of you who don't do that whole free magazine thing, this is your chance to have a peek at the beer-centric prose available in Chill... worth every penny, I say.)

I've never been what you'd call a natural athlete (people tell me I have my mother's arms). When I played "skins" in high school, I was often mistaken for the parallel bars. In football, I played drawback, you dig?

Me playing football is like my mom competing in a freestyle rap battle. It's theoretically possible, but it's sure not going to be pretty. The thing is, when a guy of my… vintage goes out there looking for a team sport, it has to be social, fun, and—most importantly—fracture-free. This is where touch football comes in.

Like many American pastimes, touch football is making huge inroads in Canada. Like dodge ball, it has a quirky, after-school vibe that people enjoy. Unlike dodge ball, injuries you sustain can be bragged about during a job interview. "Yes, Mr. Sale. We are very impressed with your CV, but that red welt on your forehead leads us to believe you recently got pwned by a thirteen-year-old girl."

Now since the words "touch" and "football" are usually not in my vocabulary—unless accompanied by the words "ten-foot pole"—I had to start basically from scratch.

Good news #1: you don't have to be some 'roided masochist to play touch football. Try this test: stand in the middle of your living room with your arms out in front of you, squat until your bum is resting on your heels. If you can do this without the neighbours wondering why you're playing Yahtzee, you're halfway there.

And don't feel bad if you're not quite Tom Brady's stunt-double. Football is filled with XXXL guys who not only survive, but thrive on their girth. (This is not an excuse to continue your strict regimen of bacon-stuffed cheese sticks with gravy chasers, but at least you've got a chance at instilling something other than pity in the opposing team.) Hey, it may be "touch" football, but there's no arguing with 280 pounds of large, sweaty dude headed toward an open receiver. And try getting on a beach volleyball team with a nickname like Landfill.

Make sure you buy a good pair of running shoes. Your flip-flops are not going to cut it. Some leagues want you to have rubber cleats, while others may be okay with bare feet and ankle-bracelets. Wherever you go, know what the gear requirements are.

Good news, part deux: finding a league is actually pretty easy (provided you don't live in, say, the outskirts of Pickle Lake). You know that whole interweb thingy? If you can't figure out how to Google a local gridiron, you're probably not ready for something as complicated as a "two-point conversion". Try checking out www.ontariofootballalliance.ca. That should set you straight.

If you're a loner, feel free to roll the dice, hoping for a vacancy on a team crammed with fun athletic dudes who are on a first-name basis with the Tecate girls. But your best bet is to cajole the usual suspects at your next BBQ and join a league. The easily kept promise of a post-game pitcher (on you) should do the trick. If not, you might mention this to the guys: women are getting in on the act.

What's that, you say? A co-ed sport with the word "touch" in it? Um... yes. Word to the wise, though: although there is no maximum amount of time you're "allowed" to touch the opposing ball-carrier, Velcro-handed rushers more often than not end up with two black eyes and a restraining order. Black eyes if they're lucky. Sal Granata, at the Ultimate Touch Football League in Toronto says that although women make up a minority of the players, you'd be best not to underestimate them. In Sal's words, "The guys really respect the ladies, because if they don't, 6 points will be scored against them."

So you and your buddies now have a team. Way to go, Rudy. Time for a team name. The UTFL have some beauts: The Boilermakers, The Spitting Llamas and - no joke - The MILF Hunters and the The Mighty Cocks. Memo to self: Wife stays home on game night.

Surprisingly, the UTFL only have one team called the Rough Riders, which, as a Canadian fan, I find a little unpatriotic. (I was always hoping the CFL would bump it up to three. The Fredricton Ruffryders, maybe?)

Let's talk rules. The rules are—well, they're a little messed-up is what they are. Nobody seems to agree on anything. Meaghan Davis, the Touch Program Coordinator at Football Canada tells me that Flag football is played five-on-five or seven-on-seven, while Touch sticks to seven-on-seven. In Touch, the rules are being updated. In Flag, they're in process. In my local league, it's six-on-six. Who cares? You're out there to have fun, not jury a trial. Play one-on-one, if that's your bag. Be the first team in Ontario where each side is a prime number greater than 50!

The basic thrust is this: Two opposing teams looking to score the most points. The pigskin is snapped to a quarterback, or merely picked up. The ball-bearer now has about seven seconds to attempt a pass — or run it himself. (That's the whole "one steamboat, two steamboat" thing—it comes from an aquatic version of the game played exclusively by riverboat gamblers. Actually I have no idea where this comes from.)

Remember, it's mostly a passing game, so don't worry about spending inordinate amounts of time studying a chalkboard that looks like tic-tac-toe for Vulcans. Just find someone who's open and let it fly. (This is the part where I'd be looking for a league that is cool with Nerf. Fun's fun, but I don't want my body to look like an anger-management group was using me as a CPR dummy.)

Take it to the end zone and spike that mother. If you absolutely can't help yourself, you may indulge in one – and only one – "stir-the-pot-Cuba-Gooding-Jr"—type move. Then, rip off your jersey and throw it to that kid drinking a Coke over there.


If—as a quarterback—you can't decide between "Hike!" or "Hut hut hut!", just ask for the ball; politely but firmly.

Bicycle tires are generally sub-standard for running drills.

If a teammate tells you to "Go long!" always respond with "That's what she said."

The patting of a teammate's butt after a good play should never last longer than 0.02 seconds. In fact, I propose eliminating this altogether.

Never play any team wearing matching butcher's aprons.

When choosing a team name, obscure wild animals are a good idea (e.g. the Mimico Marmosets, the Shelbyville Shadflies, the New Liskeard Narwhals... etc.)

Unless you're really okay with giggles, try to avoid Trojans or Titans as a team name.

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