When November turns the corner and fall heads for winter, weather wreaks havoc on football and changes the feel of a game. Men turn into football players in the rain, and boys turn into sugar cubes and melt. If there’s on thing I know about bad weather it’s that not all fields are created equal, and not everyone feels the same about getting dirty.
Rains falls the same on both opponents, so it stands to reason that whoever has more fun playing in the slop will win. It’s that simple. Just like some players need the opening kickoff to wake them up, the sooner you get wet, the better you feel. Some players love the mud and discomfort of intermittent violence mixed with wet piles on cold soggy ground. Those players are usually hogs. Others go with multilayers with technical shirts and warm leg gear to cover every patch of skin possible. Those players are divas.
When it comes to football surfaces, nothing beats the original creation grass. Grass gets muddy, wet, and downright sloppy very fast. The fastest running backs are reduced to pedestrian speed, and defensive battles rule the day. If you saw the Houston-Chicago Sunday night game from Soldier Field, you know what I’m talking about. The final score (13-6 ) was a high one in these conditions.
Time and technology have brought us game turf, but it’s main forms still aren’t better than grass. Carpet turf was known for it’s ability to remove sheets of skin like a multi-layered razor, while field turf is known to make joints collapse and ligaments pop at will. Sure, they stand up better to the rain, but so does a retractable dome with climate control and skylights. Grass stains your clothes, turf maims your body. Let’s take it outside and get nasty the way Mother Nature intended.
When you embrace ugliness it feels as good as it looks. If you’ve never experienced a game where your fingers turned blue, red, and purple, your mouth guard kept falling into the mud, a shoelace ripped on every drive, sleeves tore off, shoes leaked, and water stuck in your ear… I feel sorry for you. Remember, there’s winning ugly and there’s losing ugly; losing ugly isn’t any better for your self esteem than regular losing. Winning feels like winning no matter how it looks. Actually, it feels the greatest if you win over an opponent who looks uglier than you.
The greatest crazy weather game I played in came during a particularly wet fall in 2003. Simon Fraser University played UBC, our crosstown rival in what is now referred to as the Fog Bowl. After what seemed like a month of steady rain and downpours leading up to the game, the air was eerily calm before kickoff on Saturday night. The field held many weeks of rain, and within minutes it showed up on face masks in chunks of sod, in massive soup patches in the middle of long drives, and in beads on shiny helmets. With a wet but calm 10-3 SFU lead after the half, both teams emerged to find that another element had sunk in during the break: fog.
What started as thick, low-lying fog turned only thicker as a cloud of grey unleashed a predatory scenario. What ensued was one of the best halves of football I’ve been a involved in; SFU outscored UBC 28-9 in the second half to put the game away 38-12. Field visibility was around 10 feet, and the huddle could barely be seen from the sideline, where coaches and players found out about touchdowns 30 seconds after they happened. Hits took place out of nowhere. “Head on a swivel” has never been more relevant.
It completely removed the coaches and fans as elements. We played fundamental old school muddy beat-the-man-across-from-you football by mixing runs up the gut with short passes from a spread set. Seriously, we alternated between three different runs and two pass formations with audibles at the line. Throw in a dose of downfield blocks, and that’s how four second-half touchdowns were punched in compared to three field goals. I do recall seeing after the game that UBC had nicer, water repellant sideline jackets, but I don’t know if wearing them made UBC feel better. I don’t know how to score points on the sideline.
High or low visibility, we would have kicked UBC up and down the field with our eyes closed in the fog. We were uglier, muddier, and happier. Anybody can stay dry, but not everyone can win ugly and feel good about it. Not everyone is so lucky.
Luke Purm is a freelance writer and former college football player (a wide receiver at Simon Fraser University) with an inside look at the sights and sounds from the huddle, down the field, through the air, in the endzone, under the pile, out of the locker room, on the scoreboard, and everywhere else football sweats, smells, yells, breathes and collides with life. Follow him on Twitter.