Carrying on a tradition becomes more challenging as one ages
August 9, 2004
I’m limping around the office today and it feels great. My back, shoulders, hips and legs are screaming with every move and I couldn’t be happier.
Why am I so happy about being in pain? Because for an athlete, even one whose glory days are a decade in the past, there is no better feeling than being totally exhausted after a weekend of hard playing.
Last weekend was the date of an annual 6-on-6 soccer tournament in Santa Cruz that has been an off-and-on tradition for me and some friends from high school since our college days. The two-day, three-division event is the perfect mix of soccer, sun, beach and party (there are also two women’s divisions, always a plus) for a slightly rowdy bunch of young men.
After playing five out of six years, our group had missed two straight tournaments before this year. But when my buddy Graeme called last month and wanted to put a team together, I was all for it. I’ve been playing in our local recreational league and having a good time, which has gotten me into some semblance of soccer shape and my boss in nice enough to give me an occasional Sunday off so I can have a long weekend. So Graeme and I spent a couple of weeks tracking people down and getting commitments from those who weren’t getting married, too far away or too busy.
After an ungodly arrival time of 8 a.m., we split our two games on Saturday. We needed a win on Sunday morning to advance into the knockout rounds, but the tradition of bar-hopping on Saturday night was simply too strong to ignore. While we didn’t reach the excesses of our younger days, six hours of carousing isn’t the best way to prepare for an early and long day of soccer. Neither is packing seven guys into two motel rooms, but we haven’t gotten rich in our old age and the Santa Cruz tourist industry has apparently taken gouging lessons from Enron executives.
Fifteen minutes after a shrieking motel-room alarm clock wake-up, we were on the field and ready to play. My head was a little foggy, not great for a goalkeeper with no substitute available, but we managed to score early and gut out a win. We were moving on, shooting for our first win in the playoffs. Ever.
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Hearts sank as we saw the playoff bracket. Our opponents were a well-known team featuring several players from the Chico Rooks, a minor-league professional team. It didn’t help that they were wearing sleeveless jerseys and looked like bodybuilders, or that they had very attractive women cheering them on and distracting our players.
Somehow, the sports movie cliché of a rag-tag team fending off a bigger, stronger opponent came to pass. We eked out a 4-3 win, with the other team missing several scoring chances in the final minutes as I flopped around like a boated fish.
I must admit that I don’t have a strong memory of that game other than a desperation kick save in the final minute, as the end of my hangover and the beginning of flat-out fatigue merged into a massive headache. I’m told I played well, but that could just be my friends being nice. Not that they’re usually nice, but a guy with a hangover usually elicits a sympathetic kindness from other guys.
By that time the sun was blazing and the food tent had run out of water, making the rest of the day a test more of endurance than skill. The semifinal and final were back-to-back during the hottest part of the afternoon, not an ideal environment for already-dehydrated players. We slogged through the semifinal but ran out of gas in the championship game, depriving us of free tournament T-shirts given to the winners.
A quick laundry list of injuries: bruised hips, scraped knees, sore shoulders and back, sunburn and a golf ball-sized knot on my left shin. Typing this column is about the only thing I’ve done today that hasn’t caused me pain.
Needless to say, if there was another tournament next weekend, I’d be there. I would, however, bring more water.
– Tribune staff writer Jared Green can be contacted at (530) 542-8008 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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