Somewhere in Northumbria, stuck in between the last vestige of England and the start of Scotland, among the ever-climbing foothills of the border counties are a group of kids who love what they call "American Football".
There's not much to do in Northumbria. Last year the winds were so awful that a commuter train in Newcastle was overturned, and all of the last summer was lost because no human could walk on grass because of foot and mouth. This fall was a blessing because those kids got a chance to play our version of the game on real grass. The NFL is considering folding the NFL Europe experiment, none of these kids know anything about what the men in suits might plan, and I won't tell them.
Still pitfalls abound. You can't throw a lopsided pass too high because the field where they play is an undeveloped stretch of land with overhanging electrical towers. The markers that create goal line stands and out-of-bounds catches are delineated by old shoes and garbage cans. Arguments are par for the course.
Their parents still remember when American football was still on Channel Four at a reasonable hour. They remember "refrigerator" Perry and the Super Bowl Shuffle. They thought it was quintessentially American. Bravado, cunning, and brute force - all with grace. They wonder why their kids won't come in and watch the EUFA Cup.
Watching these kids; the made-up plays, always a trick – sometimes on purpose, but mostly by mistake. Crafty – lucky – can't tell; - more like exploratory. And good and bad don't last long enough for habits to form: they're transient secondary attributes like running works now, we did that before, let's try passing – sometimes the middle is good for a while, sometimes the sideline is your friend.
I like the planning. Group huddles that break down into making fun of the other team. The best laid plans being cast aside because the receiver's sneaker got caught in the mud. The arguments about who gets to be quarterback – and here, in the north of England – the persistent argument about what down it is and how far until ten more yards will be granted.
The civility of English culture persists. The winner is forgotten in an hour and newcomers shake hands barely understanding the game they just played.
We're these players top notch?
Was this game top notch?
Probably not, but I guess I don't really know what that means.
It's not like Steve Mizerak running the 150-and-out or the bottom of the 9th in the sixth game of this last World Series or watching every Brown's game this season.
But I'm still riveted:
Qualities and energies are engaged which I'd rather cultivate than siphon off.
No matter how this all turns out, I'm still proud to be a Brown's fan.