I watched the Seattle-San Francisco football game this past Sunday. I watched the whole thing through the final whistle so I got to see Sherman, the Seattle right corner, make a hell of a play to send his team to the championship game, and also enjoy his hyperkinetic rant after time ran out and some sideline reporter was stupid enough to jam a microphone in his face.
I didn't have the same reaction my friend Labrys had or, frankly, that Charles-whose-wordprocessor-I-am-not-worthy-to-reboot-Pierce had.
Because I used to play soccer goalkeeper.
Because of that I completely understand exactly where Rich Sherman was that night, and, no, I don't think it had anything to do with brutality (and, yes, it is a pretty goddamn brutal sport) and, no, I don't think it had anything to do with racism or being an uppity Negro (and, yes, he was rude and loud and obnoxious, and in this country if you're black that will earn you a pantsload of ignorant racist bullshit).
It had to do with playing on the side that doesn't have the ball.
Attackers, whether they're soccer strikers or football receivers, get to do one particular thing that we football cornerbacks and soccer goalies don't and usually can't do; they get to score points.
In most sports let's face it; that's the fun shit.
That's the glory noise, the big news that makes the headlines and gets you on cereal boxes and into lucious television contracts. How many cornerbacks can you think of sitting in the ESPN booth right now? Kasey Kellar is the only keeper I know of that works the booth and that's largely because soccer in the U.S. is frankly weird and keepers are often the only player most Americans outside soccer fanatics actually know.
But playing offense is a self-licking ice cream cone.
Any sports nut can tell you how many points so-and-so scored, how many assists, how many yards he ran for or threw for, how many goals he scored. Any casual fan remembers the quarterbacks and the receivers, the strikers and the wingers, the goal-scoring centers and the point guards.
Who the hell remembers whose tackle saved a sure goal? The stick save, the deflected pass, the steal? Who recalls who batted the possible winning touchdown pass away for the interception that saved the game and the conference championship?
I'll tell you this; they'll damn well remember who did that for Seattle in 2014.
But it's more than that.
Defending is about plain and simple defiance.
It's about raging and hating to lose. It's about pure anger.
It's personal. It's about wanting to ruin the other person's day.
Stopping his best shot. Tackling him when he's got a clear run at goal and stripping the ball off his feet. It's about getting out to full stretch and palming his sure game-winner around the outside of the post. Pushing his slam-dunk back in his face. Sending him to the ice with the puck skipping away.
Sure, you saved your team the points, or the game. But other than that what's the reward for this hard work?
I'll tell you.
It's looking at the striker's face, seeing in that quarterback's eyes, the knowledge that you bested him. That he gave you his best shot and you were better. That he came straight at you with all his skill and strength and you slapped it down like it was a little baby's patty-cake pat. It's watching his sad little face get all puffy and red, watching him watch you with cautious hatred, and loving the feeling that you crushed his hopes and blighted his dream.
We all feel that way.
Sherman just said it.
I know, because of the night the striker on the team sandbagging down to our sad, low co-ed Division 4 level ran in on me as I collected the ball on the ground and kicked it straight back into my face and broke my nose.
(Then had the gall to complain to the referee that I was bleeding on the field.)
So after I stonewalled the sonofabitch the rest of the match - making save after save to deny him the win he so badly wanted - I walked up to him with the bloody twists of paper sticking out of both nostrils and got right in his face and smiled.
He shoved me and I cocked a fist and both teams jumped on us and hauled us away.
And, broken nose and all, I was a happy man.
Because I owned his sorry ass, and he knew it, and I knew he knew it, and that knowledge filled me with joy.
That's a very low human emotion, I'll admit, but that's the sort of thing that builds good defenses.
And to make this about race or civility or something like that is just silly. If you did, or do, you really need to borrow my gloves and go get between the posts and I'll hammer some shots at you and dare you to stop me and we'll see how you feel about that.