A few Saturdays ago, I spent the evening barreling through the hallways at Swig in an attempt to judge the club's Halloween costume contest. I arrived home, drunkenly fumbled with my alarm clock, trying to adjust for Daylight Savings Time. I woke up the next day, an hour early, the clock in my brain hopelessly scrambled. The whole situation did not make me particularly psyched to drag myself over to check out a pickup touch football game.
But this wasn't just any football game. This particular group of guys has been gathering every year for 20 years, a millennium as far as pickup games go. They are led by two of the original members of the loose-knit group, Glenn Dickter and CD ***image1***Friedman. The numbers and faces of players vary, but every season there are usually enough guys there at 10 am on Sunday mornings to put together a six-on-six, or at least a five-on-five. "It started out with three guys 20 years ago, and it never stopped," says Dickter, whose son Corey, 16, plays too. "We played with the street rules I grew up with in Philly."
When I arrive, it's a gloriously beautiful morning, and that's part of the reason why things like touch football games are so important. Sitting in the grass, bundled in Adidas warm-up pants and an old college sweatshirt, as the sun beams down and burns my face, I realize any excuse for people to get out in the sun, which here is infused with a unique Santa Fe divinity, is a good thing.
There is a certain pureness, too, in the activity of these 12 fellows I'm watching on the field, though it would be a stretch to call it divine. Maybe it's the purity of dude-ness, as hoarse calls of "Know your pattern!" and "Good defense!" criss-cross the field. Or maybe it's the purity of one of those rare moments in Santa Fe when people of all demographics join for just a couple of hours (according to the players, most of ***image2***them don't really socialize together except for football). Today there are Hispanics and Anglos, young and old, secular and devout. "Some of the more religious guys," according to Dickter, "go to early mass up the street, then come play ball."
To Friedman, though, such analysis is most likely over-thinking. "It's just the magnitude and the intensity of it," he says. "I'm just addicted to it. I'd play anywhere, anytime-it could be lightening with five feet of snow and freezing cold out."
The rules of this particular game are fairly simple. A two-hand touch-it must be below the neck-equals a tackle (don't let the "touch" fool you, this is still a high-contact game). Three completions equals a first down. You have two sets of downs, and if you don't score by the second, you give up possession. The size of the field is dictated by how many players there are.
From my vantage point, two things stand out as most important: First, execution. This isn't the ole Statue-of-Liberty-play league. Talent doesn't count quite as much as knowing your assignments and patterns, and running them right. Dickter excels at this, partly because when he grew up, "we played in the streets. There was a car here and a car there, so you had to learn how to run your pattern or you'd run into one."
The second-and perhaps more thrilling-element is speed. As I chat on the sideline with various players, Friedman catches a pass and starts maneuvering through the defense. At 36 years old, he cuts and jabs for a good 20 yards with a stunning agility and quickness. I have to squint into the sun to watch him as he crosses the goal line, untouched. It's an impressive display (I find out later he runs the 40 in 4.6). It's a reminder of the redemptive quality, the single-minded joy, of scoring a touchdown, feeling nothing but speed and power and sunshine.