(If you missed part 1 you can check it out here.)
David Blough is a 6'1" quarterback from Texas, and just juked left before darting right all the way across the field before unleashing a rainbow of a throw into the back right of the end zone to a wide open receiver for a touchdown that caused some kind of change in score that I can't pretend to remember or care about. Does that remind you of someone? A diminutive, surprisingly agile youngster from Texas with questionable arm strength keeping the play alive with his feet before accurately presenting a pass to one of his even less heralded receivers?
Of course, the thing that Blough has most going for him isn't what he shares in common with Drew Brees, it's what he doesn't share in common with the other two quarterbacks competing for snaps for Purdue. Mainly, the fact his last name isn't Etling or Appleby. It's pretty clear, on the field and in the stands, we're done with the Etling experience. A strong arm only makes it look worse when you're wildly inaccurate with your throws. As for Appleby, it's hard to see where his playing time last year helped him. He's tentative and slow on his reads and doesn't have the arm strength to make up for it. He's a decent athlete, but Blough ran a 4.6 in high school and kept multiple plays alive longer than they should have.
This brings us to the quintessential problem with spring games. It's become popular, at least in the NBA, to try and draw up interest by holding drafts in special, meaningless games like the rookie/sophomore game before it became the young locals against the young internationals. In this fashion, Purdue's coaching staff drafted teams instead of dividing into first team defense and first team offense. There's some logic to this, I suppose. Instead of seeing first team versus first team and getting an accurate gauge of the talent on the front lines, we get this mess of parts and pieces put together. Half of a first team offense against half a second team defenses, and the fans are left wondering who fits where.
This game is not for us. It's for the coaches to see their players in action, but it's hard to get any feel for the team as a concise whole from the stands when neither offense or defense is fully put together. You don't know who to blame and who to celebrate. That said, the coaches don't have much of an idea who their first teamers will be when the season starts either.
And I'm almost there. I'm almost pulled back in. This is the beauty of sports. Bantering, objective subjectivity, comparisons based on small, minute background notes, feeling like only you have the answer to all the questions, wondering and investing in complete strangers who are now actually younger than me, and it's this thought that pushes me back out.
Because it's now been weeks since the Spring game. Weeks to converge the image of Blough's pass floating and spinning into the air towards those ten fingers and six points, but my mind does not go there. It barely registers anything joyous in all that beautiful chaos.
My mind goes to a run to the right side. There is a hole for a brief moment and the running back charges. When a defender gets in his way, he does it with bent knees, lowered and ready to receive the momentum of this running back. I don't know their numbers. I don't know their names. I only know the sound of the defender's helmet being met by the full brunt of the running back's shoulder pads. Twenty rows up, it is a lightning bolt of collision, the thunder scares me. The running back goes down. The whistles are blown. The defender stays on the ground, hands up to his helmet.
Unsteadily, he rises from the ground. He staggers to the sideline, he bends at the knee again with his hands clutching at his facemask or has he taken his helmet off? I don't want to remember. He looks like he's about to puke. As if he's been knocked into another existence. So many cliches. It takes two minutes for the trainer to come over to him. Two minutes for this man's brain to exist in its scrambled state without even a hand on his shoulder.
I do not remember his number, in that moment, I do not even look for it. I get up. I have to. I don't want to know his name. This kid, this person younger than I am, who willingly puts himself in front of the running bulls because we have promised him glory.
I am reminded again of the coliseum. It stands empty now. Death is not sport. Suffering is not spectacle.
Did they know their gladiator's name? Did they have numbers to identify them? Is that how they talked themselves into cheering?
I think, if I am far enough away, I can be a fan again because none of them will have names either or at least I won't have to hear their thunder.
I started this thinking it would be a simple assimilation. I loved football once. I thought I could love it again. This is a weird place to put these thoughts, these feelings because this is a sports blog. A community of people who love sports. I probably shouldn't post this here. I don't want you to feel guilty. These kids are getting educations and dollars and companionship and all the other beautiful aspects you get from sports.
But I do have aspirations towards journalism, towards whatever writing these words is, and this is my truth. I thought I could be a fan again, but I can't. There's always basketball.