The game officially ended in a tie. But I walked away without a limp, so in my book, it was a huge win.
Yes, I have successfully endured a soccer game, having competed in the kids vs. adults game at my daughter’s school.
The format was simple: Faculty and parents, many of whom were in shape at some point in their lives, took the field against a gaggle of middle schoolers who can run nonstop for days on end. One of the other parents asked if we had a team name. I offered “Pending Hamstring Pulls.”
I once was in great shape. I played soccer growing up and in college was on most every intramural team we had. Even after college, I stayed pretty active and kept in fairly good shape. Then a little something called children happened to me. The bulk of my workouts came in the form of piggyback rides or pushing a swing or climbing to the top of the Chick-fil-A playground to retrieve a terrified 3-year-old.
But it was important to my daughter that I play, so I decided I would dust off the cleats and risk bodily harm.
I arrived at the game just before it started, so I had very little time to stretch. As I have gotten older, I have found that the amount of time I need to stretch before a game fits in a simple formula. I take my age and double it. And that is the number of hours I need to start stretching before the game.
Alas, no such luck. I started off on the bench, which was fine, because I used that time for what amounted to some probably pointless stretching. After a few minutes, the first adult came to the sideline for a sub. (We were the grown-ups, so we could make up the rules and thus substitute freely.)
I hit the field, and the rush of my days long ago came back. The thrill of the game. The sprint to the ball and exhilaration as I went to challenge for it, only to realize, hey, I’m not wearing shin guards. I quick jumped to the side and safely avoided my first catastrophe of the day.
There were about 30 total kids on the boys and girls teams, so they were spreading out their playing time over three periods. I played a bit in the first, but subbed out freely as I had my eye on a far more important prize in the second period – stalking the field for No. 55, my daughter.
When she stepped on the field, she looked my way and pointed at me. Oh, it was game on. I began the taunts. “Hey, 55, you can run but you can’t hide!” I screamed. Rather than have that, “Dad you’re embarrassing me” look I expected, she glared back, with a “Bring it!” look. Eye of the tiger. I was using some good ol’ street ball trash talk across the field to her. One rather large failure of trash talk was saying, “Hey, Double Nickles, don’t run from me!” I later learned this was merely confusing everyone on the field, no one understood I was talking about No. 55, as one of the teachers playing was Mr. Nichols.
It took a few minutes for us to have a play near each other. When the time finally came, I was prepared for the epic encounter – the clash of the Gibbons titans. The ball was cleared about five feet in front of me, and I darted toward it. I saw my daughter converging, a look of fierce determination on her face. I was going to go into my best bag of soccer tricks, flick the ball past her, and, for good soccer measure, give her a little hip check as I went by. Gloves were off.
And then she got to the ball before me, booting it right past me. She went into a gunslinger stance, pointed at me and said, “HA!”
I can safely say it is the only time I have been bested on a soccer field and smiled.
I spent the rest of the game completely out of position, just chasing her around and tugging at her jersey and pulling her ponytail and doing what would have, in a normal game, amounted to about 15 ejections.
Toward the end of the game, several of us on the adult side decided we’d see if the kids would notice if all 16 of the parents took the field. The five of us on the sideline eased onto the field. They noticed. A rush of kids stormed the field, creating this mass of soccer inhumanity, the ball congested in a throng of flailing legs and flying hands that resulted in, quite possibly, the ugliest soccer ever played.
The final score of the game was 3-3. But the game was a big win for me. And not just because I could walk the next day. I saw No. 55 face down her biggest competition yet. And she won. Attagirl, Double Nickles.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.