Where I grew up we invented a football game we called the "Turkey Bowl." We played it every year on Thanksgiving. Later, we found out everyone who ever played football did the same thing. It was good we didn't put TM on the T-shirts we made one year. It would have been a years-long legal battle with the other 54,000 Turkey Bowl games. Oh well. We weren't that inventive. But the guys in North Conway, N.H., might be on to something slightly different.
Since 1972, they've been flooding a field to contest something they call the Mud Bowl. Teams from all over North Conway come to play. So do teams from all over other parts of New England. This September, 10 teams fought it out in the knee-deep water and mud. When they explained to us that the rules awarded the offense a first down for moving the ball 10 feet, we knew this was a different kind of game.
In the pros, the very best players talk about how the game slows down. In North Conway, that part was easy. I once reached out for help just to move toward the line of scrimmage after the huddle break. Several players thought I just wanted to slap hands for whatever great thing had taken place, which at the time was the break of the huddle. What I really wanted was someone to help pull me from the mud that wouldn't allow me to take one step forward. Finally someone understood my meaning and my feet were forcibly extracted from the thick mud that prevented my participation in the next play.
Several times I made what I thought were Elway-like heroic runs only to look up and discover I had carried the ball for one inch. The game had very much slowed down for me. Not for some others. They found the shallower sections of the flooded field. That, or they were younger and more athletic. There was little to distinguish anyone based on appearance. Some might have been a little more fit but all were covered from head to toe in mud. I'll never wear those clothes again. I'll never wear them again because I threw them away. They smelled bad. I think I still do.
The flooded field we played on was an old landfill. That's our problem. But we had no worries when shoving and diving and trying to run through the mud. We were playing football and the sport we grew up with was close to our hearts. And the mud we played on was in our eyes. And we couldn't see. But we could feel it down deep. The mud and the game.