May. 31, 2012
11:45 pm

Journal

On mud, desperation and defeat

Reading this Deadspin piece about Rajon Rondo’s insanely awesome performance last night in the second game of the Eastern Conference Finals reminded me of a story from high school. The phrase “playing f–k-you basketball” brought this memory back.

I went to a really small private high school in South Carolina. I mean really small — my graduating class numbered 33 students. I played (mediocre) soccer for two of those years (on a mediocre but scrappy team). With a small school, that meant I got some playing time as a defender.

One away game junior year, we arrived at the field and it immediately started raining. No lightning, just a cold, wet rain on a field that was set below the ground around it. The coaches decided not to call the game, and both teams trudged out onto a field that started flooding. The bench players, including me, put on jackets and huddled under the bleachers. The rain still splashed down through the seats. Somehow I hit my head, hard, on one of the metal supports. My head started throbbing — I was cold, wet and hurting at a game I was unlikely to play in anyway.

Come the second half, we’re down by a goal or two and our players are demoralized and exhausted. There’s standing water across large swaths of the field. Running through it is impossible, and the ball either stops or skips across the puddle and spins in another direction. The game turns into a sloppy, sluggish rendition of six-year-olds playing a soccer game, with a miserable pack of teenagers chasing after the ball in a disorganized pack.

Since our starters are burnt out, our bench players get called on to the field during the second half, including me. I’m put in as a forward, oddly, and I’m angry and miserable.

I start playing “f–k-you soccer.”

If the ball’s at midfield, I’m after it, kicking it downfield or out to the side. None of my teammates are around me most of the time, so occasionally it’s me punting the ball forward, chasing it, and doing it again if a defender hasn’t managed to get to it. I’m trudging through puddles, often bashing the ball to only have it go a couple of feet forward, then repeating. There’s no ball control, there’s no strategy, there’s no thought. Just me in the middle of the field toiling away, working as hard as I can to get something going. Eventually our team put some semblance of a game back together, but the conditions were too much to even get anything done.

I wish this story had a happy ending, but it doesn’t. Nothing came of my second-half performance except mud and water splashed all over my uniform and a newfound respect from my coaches for what I can do on the field when desperate and angry. Right after the game (in a corner of some rural McDonald’s I’m sure we completely dirtied up), the assistant coach called me a “mudder,” as in a racehorse that runs better on a muddy track.

There are a few other moments that come to mind in my time playing soccer in high school. None of them particularly glorious, but all significant in their own way. There’s something about sports that creates that moment.

Seeing Rondo summon a performance like his last night, getting little help and ultimately resulting in defeat, brought that feeling back to me.