Friday Follies

The sentence ranks fourth on the list of most often heard sentences from my childhood. Right behind, "Pull my finger!", "Because I said so!", and "I'll give you something to cry about." (I am joking, in case my parents or the Department of Child Services are monitoring these columns.)

I never understood why my mother was so opposed to indoor sports. What was wrong with a little Whiffle ball in the living room on a rainy day? And why did the cheerleaders throw out those little red and white (later white and red) footballs at the Alamo High football games if they weren't intended for kitchen use? True, we had to modify traditional game rules for the limitations of the arena, but the thrill of competition and the height of athletic glory could not be smothered by shag carpet and Harvest Gold appliances. Sock ball (which I am convinced will someday be made an Olympic sport) was played entirely on the knees. (Anyone who rose slightly to a crouch to speed his base running was guilty of the game's most egregious transgression.) Indoor Nerf basketball had a migratory three-point line and it was the venue of every tomahawk slam I ever achieved. No blood-no foul. Rug burns were free. Game play was stopped intermittently for repair of the goal. The suction cup mount had a lifespan of about ten minutes.

Indoor football required allowances for the absence of sidelines, but that did open the door for some cranium-endangering tackles and it forced us into a limited repertoire of pass patterns. In our football field, you were pretty much going to run a "fly" or a "buttonhook", since "post" or "in" patterns led into walnut paneling and "flags" or "outs" placed you squarely in lamp territory. Despite arguments to the contrary, the greatest lockdown corner in football history was not Deion Sanders, Mel Blount or Mike Haynes; it was my mother's favorite lamp. No passes were ever attempted in his zone.

We also played an indoor version of Kill the Man With the Ball a.k.a. Smear the Queer. I confess, from these more enlightened times, that that name was insensitive and we should be deeply ashamed of ourselves. Today, the game is better known as Harass the Homo. (That isn't true, it is called Allow ALL, Including Those with Diverse Lifestyle Choices or (Potentially) Inborn Gender and/or Orientation Traits or Those From Non-traditional Family Units an Equal Opportunity for Being Tackled Violently by Eight Ten-Year Olds, Simultaneously).

For all of my mother's efforts and frustration, she never succeeded in enforcing her lifetime ban on indoor ballplaying. As the youngest of six children, I may have had it easier since she was older and had been worn down by the older siblings. In addition to my older brothers, I had a critical ally in my sporting development: my father. As long as nothing was broken, he didn't seem to notice that gladiatorial combat was all around him. While the 1970's and 80's saw the ultimate demise of the ABA, the WFL, the USFL and the NASL; my indoor games persevered, surviving threats, punishments and the Great Home Remodeling Crisis of 1980.

As the father of six children, several of whom are budding indoor games stars, I once-again experience the eternal battle of mothers versus sons over the carpeted fields of glory. "No playing ball in the house!" is now the sixth most-uttered sentence in our home, just after "It wasn't me", "You can't go to school without underwear!", "Don't put that in your mouth!", "He bit me!" and "She hit me first!." I confess that I am more-often participant than disciplinarian in these events and I should note that I have become quite an expert at patching the numerous mysterious, baseball-sized holes in the drywall.

My mother and my wife are right, though. Some games are just meant to be played outdoors. Despite the best of intentions, our local college (East Tennessee State University) should have never decided to play its home football games inside. The creation of Memorial Center (better known locally as the Mini-Dome) put small college football in a sterile environment and hid fans away from the beautiful East Tennessee Autumn afternoons. That was nigh-on to criminal in my book. I am convinced that the move indoors was instrumental in the eventual death of the ETSU football program. Sure, other factors were involved, but the dome was the killer.

Our Tennessee Vols have had mixed results while playing inside. In the 1972 Bluebonnet Bowl at Houston's Astrodome, the Vols topped LSU. Although they lost the ‘79 Bluebonnet to Mark Herrmann and Purdue, they came back for classic indoor Sugar Bowl victories over Miami in ‘86 and Virginia in '91. The 1998 season opened with a comeback indoor win at Syracuse's Carrier Dome that was certainly the start of good things to come. A couple of SECC games in Atlanta around that time turned out OK, as I recall.

Since the 1998 Georgia Dome win over Mississippi State, however, our Vols are 0-4 indoors. Two depressing SECC Games and two depressing-er Peach Bowls have convinced me that we're better off underneath God's sky (and on God's grass while we're at it). Given that recent record, if it were left up to me, all UT football games would be outdoors. I realize that the SEC Championship game is scheduled to be indoors for the foreseeable future and we recently learned that the BCS National Championship Bowl (Your Name Here) will be played in Arizona's Glendale Stadium, which has a retractable roof to protect from all of that harsh rain and snow that plagues southern Arizona, but once my 74 year-old mother is appointed Commissioner of all Football, you can be certain there will be "No Playing Ball in the House!"

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