Backfield in Motion by
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Prompted By Super Bowl

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Everywhere you look this week, you see Super Bowl LIV. I have to laugh. Where else in American society does anyone use Roman numerals any more? The only places I can think of are the cornerstones of buildings (and now I’m wondering if modern buildings even have cornerstones) and the copyright date shown in the credits of movies. I think if you asked most people to read a Roman numeral, they would not be able to do it. Unless it was the number of the current Super Bowl.

LIV makes me think of Liv Ullman, the wonderful Scandinavian actress who was in many of Ingmar Bergman’s films, all of which I saw and loved when I was in my teens and twenties. My children are more likely to think of Liv Tyler, the model and actress who is the daughter of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Neither one, of course, has anything to do with the Super Bowl.

I have no interest in football. I don’t understand the rules or the terminology. Does “backfield in motion” actually mean anything, or is it just a great excuse for a double entendre by Mel & Tim in their 1969 song? Apparently it has to do with making an illegal move behind the line of scrimmage. So there. There are all kinds of complicated rules and terminology, but to me it just looks like a bunch of men piling on top of each other and trying to hurt each other as much as possible. I know there is more to it, and many men have tried to explain the complexities to me, but I can’t get past the piling on and hurting each other. I enjoy watching basketball, and occasionally even baseball, but football just leaves me cold.

I have been to exactly seven football games in my life, not counting my high school games. And I think a real aficionado would not count my high school games because we played six-man football. Our school was much too small to field a larger team, with only 15 boys in every grade, at least half of whom were not interested in sports. So we played in a Tri-State League of small, mostly private schools in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. In 1965, my sophomore year, we actually won the league championship. This was very exciting, especially since all those private schools, while small, were still much bigger than my school, and had money to spend on athletic scholarships, so they had serious athletes, unlike us. Anyway, our team got these great championship jackets, and when I went to an all-school reunion forty years later, there were two or three guys who still had their jackets and were wearing them, one of whom is in the Featured Image.

Getting back to the seven normal-size football games. Six of them were the Harvard-Yale game, or as it is known by both schools, “The Game.” And the very first one of those, my freshman year, was a game that is still talked about 50 years later, when Harvard came back from a huge deficit in the last three minutes to tie the game. If you don’t know about this game, I strongly recommend you see the movie Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, which is available on Amazon Prime. I continued to go to The Game for the next three years of college, as well as my first two years after college when I was still living in Cambridge. They were all fun, mostly for the company, and the crisp fall days, and of course the halftime show by the band, which always contained as much risqué material as they could sneak past the censors.

The seventh game I went to was a Stanford-Cal game, or as it is known by both of those schools, “The Big Game.” I was invited to this game my first year of  law school by a guy with whom I had worked at the Department of Transportation. By coincidence, we had left our jobs and moved to California at the same time, he to go to Stanford Business School and I to go to UC Davis Law School. He thought I might be feeling homesick for “The Game,” and that going to “The Big Game” might make me feel better. I remember nothing about it except that we were sitting on the Stanford side, and since I was at Davis, which is part of the University of California, I felt that I should be rooting for Cal. So I quietly went “yay” when the people on the Cal side were cheering, even though I had no idea what was going on. Ironically, I just googled “Stanford-Cal football game 1974” and discovered that Cal was leading 20-19 with 26 seconds to play, and a Stanford player kicked a 50-yard field goal as time expired to give Stanford, the underdog, a 22-20 win. So apparently it was an exciting game for the Stanford folks!

One final college football memory. All of the Harvard Houses play various intramural sports against each other, including football. I lived in Lowell House my last two years, and I went to one Lowell House football game, because a good friend was the place kicker for the team. Lowell was playing against Eliot House. I made up a cheer that went “Fumble it, Fumble it, F-U-M-B-L-E it,” which was clever because it sounded like “F-U-M-B Eliot.” It wouldn’t work against any other house, but it was perfect for Eliot House. The trick was knowing when to shout this cheer. I guessed that it was when Eliot had the ball and we wanted them to fumble, right? What does fumble mean, anyway? I was pretty sure that fumbling was bad, and therefore we wanted Eliot to fumble, and Lowell not to fumble. And now you know just how clueless I am about football. And I intend to stay that way. But it was a great cheer!

On Sunday, for Super Bowl LIV, my husband will undoubtedly be watching the game. I will wander in and out to see some of the commercials. Some years I am excited about the halftime show, but this year I am only mildly interested in JLo and Shakira. So I may or may not watch. We’ll see.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: funny, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    We saw “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29” in a movie theatre when it came out. It was SO much fun (and featured Garry Trudeau, who was just starting Doonsbury about his classmates). One of our close friends was at Harvard at the time, his twin brother at Yale, so that also is fun to talk about.

    With our son David playing tuba in the marching band at Stanford, we went to the Big Game once. It was a different experience for us, because David was on-call to perform (with the band) for big donors throughout the day and late into the night, but we had a plane to catch early the next morning (leading into the Thanksgiving break). David didn’t meet us at the appointed time. Dan finally had someone let us into his dorm, found him dead asleep in his clothing, of course not packed. We made a mad scramble to get him to the plane. Wild weekend.

    We once watched the Super Bowl with close friends. Like you, she couldn’t care less about the game and didn’t understand the rules, asking how does one know when there is a touch down? We ended that practice and enjoy the game in the comfort of our home. Each to his own.

    • Suzy says:

      For the record, Betsy, I am not like your “close friend” who asked about touchdowns. I know perfectly well when there is a touchdown, and I have NEVER asked questions about the game – the men who have tried to explain the complexities to me have done so because they wanted to show off, not because I asked them. So no need to be snide about it. I guess where our previously discovered sisterhood parts ways is at sports enjoyment!

      • Betsy Pfau says:

        Suzy, I certainly didn’t mean to be “snide”. I picked up on your sentence “I don’t understand the rules or the terminology” (3rd paragraph).

        And we were at very close friends’ house. No need for your quotes. These are the people we’ve spent New Year’s Eve with for the past 23 years, as described in a previous story. She just doesn’t know football. She is a musician like we are. I apologize if I offended you in some way.

  2. My snarky, clueless sister! Great minds, and all that. Wonderful title, how do you do it!?! And LIV…too funny! As a verrry serious young adult I loved Bergman (ah, loneliness; ah, desolation!) and Liv (of the Ullman persuasion), and she wrote a lovely memoir, “Changing.” Then I saw Mick Jagger in Performance (which some call the worst movie of all time but I loved) and that changed everything. Or maybe everything changed and then I saw Performance. Anyway. I LOVE in all caps L-O-V-E your cheer! The absolute cleverest!!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Barb, yes, great minds. I have never seen Performance, although I LOVE Mick Jagger. Now I will have to find it. Apparently the British Film Institute ranked it 48th in the top 100 British films of all time!

      • Well, I’m not sure it stands the test of time at this point, but I was pretty obsessed with it for a while. The first time I saw it I was stoned and there’s a scene where they start eating shrooms and then things gradually get stranger and stranger and I walked out of the theater with my mind totally blown. There’s also lots of symbolism, innuendo, ambiguity, and subtle references (e.g. to Jorge Luis Borges) that are fun to spot. But for Jagger fans, his one song alone is worth the price of admission!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Just a great story on many levels, Suzy — and I would have said that, even if so many of your points did not resonate with me personally. In particular, you will be happy to know that I have for many years told people — giving you full credit — that the cleverest cheer I had ever heard was the “FUMB- Eliot” one you came up with for the Lowell House team. (As you may recall, I was Lowell’s placekicker, though I realize you may be unaware of what exactly that guy is supposed to do. Here’s a hint: precious little. And he can be small.)

    But, beyond that, I loved your outsider’s view of the game — including The Game — with just the right touch of disdain for this silly and dangerous sport that others take so seriously. A very healthy perspective, told very amusingly.

    Also, as a public service (to you), a few information points. “Backfield in motion” is not per se illegal, only when it is done in a non-lateral direction or within one second of the ball being snapped. Got it? And, yes, fumbles are bad, but, if you recover your own fumble, it’s not nearly as bad.

    Thanks again for all the laughs — and enjoy the Super Bowl!

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you, John. Yes I do recall that you were the placekicker, I was being discreet when I said in the story that a good friend was the placekicker – I didn’t want to out you if it wasn’t a part of your resume that you wanted known.

      As to your public service, I can’t believe that backfield in motion is not per se illegal, because I am sure the song lyrics are correct. Mel & Tim wouldn’t lie. 🙂

      Backfield in motion,
      I’m gonna have to penalize you,
      Backfield in motion,
      You know that’s against the rules.

  4. Marian says:

    Really good story, Suzy. I was wondering how your high school might field (pardon the pun) a football team. Loved your recounting of the Big Game (Cal-Stanford), which always left me cold. I never wanted to negotiate trying to get to the Cal stadium. Many friends would view these games on “tight-wad hill” above the stadium.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Marian. I actually found the six-man football game more interesting to watch, although maybe that was just because I knew all the players, and it was fun to go by bus to these posh private schools in NY and Connecticut. And I don’t remember much about the Cal stadium, just that I was glad the game was there rather than in Palo Alto since I was coming from Davis.

  5. Such a rich story! I am a football fan and unabashedly so, tho’ I’m increasingly disturbed by the consequences of the bashing. As one of those ten thousand I, too, have seen many of The Games. I played in prep school. The 29-29 game of course, is memorable; the receiver who caught the tying points, Pete Varney, was a prep school teammate. And as for House football, I, too, partook, for Dunster. (Rhyme that!) My senior year we forfeited the last couple of games ’cause we ran out of players. So many memories.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Tom, glad you liked it. How fun that Pete Varney was a teammate of yours in prep school. Did you know even then that he was destined for greatness? Sorry I didn’t see you play in the Dunster-Lowell matchup, but the only game I went to was the one against Eliot. And the only rhyme I can think of for Dunster is funster, and I’m not sure how to make a cheer out of that.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, I love your riff on LIV and agree that few Americans could read Roman numerals these days. I don’t think they even teach that in school anymore. OMG, I do remember that movie Harvard Beats Yale 29-29. My kids in Boston still have the Harvard-Yale rivalry and thus that game seems to matter to them. My son was even a sports announcer for Harvard games, which I enjoyed far more than the football game itself. Those Super Bowl half-time shows are always disappointing to me and I hate commercials, no matter how well done, so I think I’ll take a pass on LIV this year.

    • Suzy says:

      My oldest daughter once had a watch with Roman numerals on it, which was her pride and joy. We’ve always been fans of Roman numerals in my family, but I know that most other people can’t read them. With this Super Bowl, I have been getting a kick out of saying “Liv” instead of 54 though.

  7. Indeed we were the Funsters.
    Re Pete, his forte wasn’t football, as good as he was, but baseball. He went on to a Major League career with the White Sox and Braves. He was a catcher. He went on from there to be a very successful college coach at Brandeis.

  8. Wow Suzy I am amazed as always at your wit and your recall! and your encyclopedic knowledge of song lyrics!

    My only memorable football game was when my son Noah was in college. He went to Brown in Providence when the mayor was Buddy Cianci who was convicted of racketeering and running a corrupt city government.

    One parents weekend we went to the game and when the mayor showed up the band broke into the theme from The Godfather.

    Senior year Noah lived off campus a few houses down from Cianci’s daughter.
    He felt very safe, he told us, because of all the patrol cars parked in the street 24/7 protecting her!

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