The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

June 7, 2007

Life is just a football game

As usual, I find myself covering the annual training camp for our local football team, when players come to our city from all over North America to make the club.

It's a tough job I have, admittedly.

I have to (shudder) sit in the stands of our stadium under (usually, but not lately) a warm spring sun watching about 70 good players compete for jobs.

Then I have to interview them afterwards and find out fascinating stories about how they came to be here.

It's a tough life, but someone has to do it.

Football in Canada isn't quite the thing it is in the United States, not nearly as well attended or popular, but it IS a big event, probably the most popular sport we cover without an NHL hockey team here.

One of the things I most love about it is it combines Americans and Canadians playing the same sport, Canadian style, that is so popular in the U.S., an event that winds up every January with the Super Bowl.

Because of Canada's colder northern climate, our championship, the Grey Cup, is played in November. And even then it is usually unbelievably cold, I'm sure, for a lot of these Americans.

Football players, often considered big muscle-headed lugs, are the most intelligent of the professional athletes I've dealt with over a 27-year journalism career.

Maybe even more suprising, if that above statement was at all, is that the most intelligent athletes I've talked to in football are the biggest of the behemoths -- the offensive and defensive linemen.

Journalistic ethics and objectivity dictate that I'm not really supposed to have friends among the athletes who are members of a team I'm reporting on. And for the most part, that's true.

But nothing can stop or change the way a person feels. When we meet someone, we like them or we don't like them. They make impressions on us, we make impressions on them.

There are, in most cases, some shared experiences.

For example, there's a 6-foot-6, 330-pound offensive tackle named Dan Goodspeed from Florida. He is just a fantastic guy. He and I hit it off. He sits after practice in the dressing room, constantly eating.

He has a big hole to fill in his stomach. I'm about half his size. But he always has a smile. He's approachable. He loves to talk. He's a great quote. And he and I both have had total knee reconstructions.

I'm writing a big feature on that. We got a picture taken with our knees together. My operation left me with big scars on my right knee. His, 20 years later, has virtually no scars.

He and I are buddies, in a sense. He gave me a hearty, warm, bear hug when I went up to him this spring and told him how happy I was to see him recovered from his injury and back with our Blue Bombers.

There definitely are some true doinks in professional sports. The pros should not be considered the ultimate heroes that we have always thought or wanted to believe that they were.

But there really are a lot of them left. And Dan Goodspeed and so many others, even on this team in Winnipeg, are among them.

And so many are Americans, they're always the stars and understandably the best players at the most important positions, but so many are Canadians too. I like that together, they're beautiful people.

As far as the training camp itself goes, I think it -- and the game of football, generally, but this could be extended to soccer or hockey or most other sports -- really is so much like life.

At least in training camp, it's about a whole bunch of people from different backgrounds coming together in one place and trying to make themselves heard, to make themselves a home.

There are a lot of arguments and fights initially, just like dogs or other animals establishing their initial territory. But they generally do that pretty quickly, and then the strongest and most intelligent survive.

That's kind of the way a football team's training camp goes. Some make it, some don't, just like in life, and the ones that don't have to find some other place or time or circumstance where they can succeed.

Me, I just document the comings and goings. Whether they make it or not, all of them are fascinating in their own ways. And in the end, it's all just a game in one way or another. Some win. And some lose.