Saturday, August 22, 2009

Darryl Green and Me

A couple of weeks ago on Ta-Nehisi Coates's Atlantic blog, a commenter posted this clip, of the NFL Hall of Fame corner back Darryl Green running down the Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson. If memory serves, at the time this happened, Dickerson was arguably the best running back in the league. Twelve seconds into the clip, you hear play-by-play man Pat Summerall effectively call the TD for Dickerson. If you pause the video there for a moment, and you've spent any time watching football, you can see why Summarall calls out "Goodnight!" at that point: Dickerson, having broken through the secondary, is in the clear. Darryl Green though, in addition to being a great football player, was, at the time of this game (and for much of his 20-year career*) the fastest man in the NFL.

A couple of nice touches at the end of the play: Green taking a second to collect himself after putting everything into that play, and Green and Dickerson congratulating each other as they head back to their respective huddles.

The second-angle replay later in the clip shows that Green didn't even have the best angle of pursuit coming after Dickerson -- Green is aiming too far to the right -- and Dickerson widens the distance a little more by drifting to his left. It doesn't matter: Green corrects and runs Dickerson down. There probably wasn't another man on earth who could have run down Dickerson from the same point on the field.

That's enough of a reason to be impressed by this play. But another reason it impresses me so much is because I've always been such a slow runner. Even as a young and fit high school kid, I was an awful sprinter. If you're an average sized guy and you don't have speed, the most forgiving position for you in high school football is probably inside linebacker, and that position isn't all that forgiving. You can compensate for your lack of speed somewhat by trying to anticipate plays, or by adjusting your angle of pursuit, but only so much. If you don't have speed, all the grit in the world won't do you much good.

Probably the first semi-competent play I made as an aspiring inside linebacker in high school was making a solo tackle on a right sweep play during a JV game. I 'flowed' to my left with the play, but I was afraid if I dived at the ball carrier I'd miss him so I grabbed his jersey and swung him to the ground. The next day at school, during study hall, I sat down at the library table where the JV coach was grading papers. "Coach," I said, "Did you see my tackle last night?". The coach, a 6'5", 300lb+ Irish guy who had been an offensive lineman at an Ivy League school, looked up from the papers he was grading, leaned back, and acted out my unconventional tackle with his hands, indicating he'd seen it, while implying by his facial expressions that I had been surprised that I had caught the guy. Then he said, "You're a linebacker, Dave. You're supposed to make tackles." And he went back to grading his papers.

*One of the related videos that pops up along with this one is of Green running a 4.2 second forty yard dash when he was forty years old. He retired at forty two.


JK said...

He made it look easy. And Eric Dickerson was a great talent himself. Look how he blew through those other defenders. Green must have had an extra helping of grits for breakfast.

Anonymous said...

Excuse my soapboxing here for a moment.

I'm 6'5. Have been since sophomore year in high school. I have quite adequate muscle mass, and I've gotten used to being the strongest, fastest, and most dextrous person on the "health club" and "playground" basketball courts.

Congratulations, some might say. I won the genetic lottery, despite being born to two sub-6ft parents! But I was never 'pushed' toward athletics. In fact, my mother actively, relentlessly, discouraged such pursuits, and my father (despite being a high school football star himself) remained mute.

Unsurprisingly, I found myself lower in the social hierarchy than those physiologically inferior "athletes" who were imbued with the prerogative to join up with the mainstream sports teams. Even today, I've found that many women are less than impressed when they discover that, despite my biological advantages, I was not a high school sports hero.

I guess my bottom-line point is that sports are perhaps the only early-life outlets for masculinity that still exist. Title 9 has corrupted the system, and made it very difficult for a critical mass of men to find fulfillment in athletics. Feminism, and general female attitudes, have destroyed sports as a "rite of passage" for young men. So most men are shuffled off to college and the real world without ever having experienced real competition and the satisfaction of succeeding in that environment at any level.

DaveinHackensack said...


I hate to crash your pity party, but my parents never "pushed" me toward sports either, and in fact discouraged me from playing anything. They also discouraged me from joining the Army Reserve in high school. I did it anyway.

In your case, if you truly are strong, fast, and athletic at 6'5", that's pretty rare. I've had a couple of good friends that tall and neither was terribly strong, fast, or athletic (one ran cross country in high school, and the other swam; neither played team sports). If you had the desire to do so, you probably could have gotten on your college football team as a walk-on (college football teams are usually the size of small armies).

But that's in the past. Let's consider the present. What are your options? Complaining about your parents, Title IX, and feminism isn't going to help you in life. If you're good at basketball or some other sport, maybe you can find an outlet for that in a competitive corporate league, or a recreational league (you might meet more women in a co-ed sport if you put your height to use in volleyball).

More to the point, though, I can't believe any woman you meet post-college really cares whether you played sports in high school. How would she know, in any case?

Your height can also be an advantage in online dating if you contact women 5'9" or taller. These women are 6'+ in heels, and many under-6' men don't feel confident approaching them (those that do feel confident in approaching taller women generally are supremely confident in other aspects of their lives as well).

Instead of complaining about society, try to meet some tall women. They're out there, and they're waiting to hear from you. Good luck with it. Post back here and let me know how it goes.

JK said...

Oh geez, some seepage from the whole "Decline of the West" pile moaning and groaning malcontents. Anon, not only did you win the genetic lottery, you also won the geographic lottery. Would you rather have been born in another country where there is no feminism, like some third world piss-pot where women have to wear veils, can't vote, etc? I don't think so. If that is the most you can complain about you'd better count your blessings. Dave should have referred you to his past post with the video "Everything is Amazing, Nobody is Happy" (or something like that). The quality of life has improved drastically for everyone the last few decades. If there is a cultural development you don't like, our country is large and diverse enough to give you the freedom to find like-minded people, including females.

And why on earth do you still lament your place in your HIGH SCHOOL social hierarchy? No adult woman cares about that. Women care about who you are now. And the military provides a huge outlet as a "rite of passage" for young men. Perhaps you have missed the massive recruitment drives the last several years?

Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to throw a pity party. My point was simply that the feminizing of society, especially prevalent in our primary schools, retards the development of many men and particularly men who are masculine but also intelligent and conformist.

Just because I criticize this feminization does not mean that I'm a pathetic angry loner who needs life coaching. Sports are important, and I've been lucky enough to have opportunities to compete my whole life, even though I was expressly forbidden from the high-prestige sports. But I know many men my age who are quite emasculated, largely because they never had their moment of triumph like you describe in this post.

And by the way, you're crazy if you don't believe that young women care if you were an athletic stud or not. I've met many women whose reaction upon meeting me was to expound wistfully on their tall high school boyfriend who played hoops. These, among others, are always visibly disappointed when they find out that I was more into theater and the math club.

I guess it's something that only tall people would be familiar with. I frequently get asked, sometimes by total strangers, about my athletic history.

JK said...


I'm 6'4 and fit. Quick but not fast. Probably not as athletically gifted as you claim to be... I'm naturally lanky but I've made impressive gains in bulk through weightlifting. I do get questions like "Did you play basketball in school?" from strangers as you describe.

I say "Yes".

End of story. It's just natural curiousity, not some attempt to peg me to some social hierarchy level. I doubt my past athletic history makes or breaks the deal with any woman with even a modicum of intelligence or decency. My present level of fitness, sure.

Personally, I think sports get too much attention by schools. I'd rather see more intellectual intermural team activities with only one or two school-funded athletic programs. I'd like there to be a federal initiative to promote intermural Battlebot tournaments or something. To make it "cool", have (large) cash prizes.

I agree with you about your observation that many smart kids -especially affluent ones with indulgent parents- grow up weak and emasculated. That's been around for much longer than feminism, however, if you are familiar with some classic literature. The human brain takes up 20% of our bodies energy, probably more for smart people. I'd venture a guess that it has more to do with biology than culture. A book I read recently, "The Chosen", about Ivy League admissions, has photos of Princetonians in the 20s. Many would definitely get pegged as "pansies" nowadays too. And back then you practically had to play football!

DaveinHackensack said...


"But I know many men my age who are quite emasculated, largely because they never had their moment of triumph like you describe in this post."

I don't know. Calling that sloppy tackle of mine in a JV game no one else remembers a moment of triumph might be stretching things a bit. And I'm sure you've had your own moments of triumph in some activities. That's not your problem. Your problem is in your own head. I've used this phrase elsewhere (and I originally borrowed it from Coates in his description of Ali's mind games), but someone is renting space in your head. Whether it's someone in the blogosphere or in real life you need to kick them out. You need to be the landlord of your own mind. Make no time for people who put you down or make you feel small, whether women, bloggers or whoever.

"And by the way, you're crazy if you don't believe that young women care if you were an athletic stud or not. I've met many women whose reaction upon meeting me was to expound wistfully on their tall high school boyfriend who played hoops. These, among others, are always visibly disappointed when they find out that I was more into theater and the math club."

I don't know where you are meeting these women who are still fixated on high school, but here's a thought experiment for you. Let's say your parents had encouraged you to play sports in high school. And let's say you did, and thanks to your natural gifts you started on the football and basketball teams. You got one of those varsity jackets, with your positions listed your leather sleeve. Now, if the world were full of women like the ones you describe above, all you'd have to do is put that varsity jacket on, and head to a bar or a club and women would flock to you.

And adult men wearing these varsity jackets would be a more common site. In reality though, you don't see that. Why not? Because anyone over the age of 19 wearing a high school varsity jacket looks like a tool, like someone who peaked in high school and is still clinging to that.

"I guess it's something that only tall people would be familiar with. I frequently get asked, sometimes by total strangers, about my athletic history."

I can't speak from personal experience on that, not being tall, but I spent a lot of time hanging out with one of the friends I mentioned above who's your height, and over the years, I can't recall any woman at a party or a bar asking him about his athletic history. My friend has wide-ranging interests though, and -- despite being a scientist -- has a natural ability to talk to anyone. So conversations with him would quickly flow to some topic of mutual interest, which, with women, was rarely his high school athletic career.

cherylinhackensack said...

I am a woman and I can tell you that no woman out of high school gives a fig about whether you played sports in high school or not. If they are,then you are meeting the wrong kind of women.

JK said...

I love that "someone is renting space in your head" phrase. I am going to steal it also.

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