Of Powder and Pigskin

Illustration: Kevin Howdeshell / kevincredible.com

My father wouldn’t let my brother and I play football because he was worried it would destroy our knees. Skiing has always been king in my family, and any activity that might threaten our ability to carve the slopes every Saturday and Sunday was viewed suspiciously.

But football fascinated us, and we still watched every Broncos game on TV until the snow came, or listened to the radio coming back from the hill. And we still played full contact pick-up games almost every afternoon in the fall, coming home with our school shirts torn, and the occasional bloody lip or black eye.

Once a year we also beat the crap out of each other at an annual full tackle tournament called The Blood Bowl, which was always held the day after Christmas on the soccer fields at Denver’s South High. A drunken, belligerent, old score settling, no-rules kind of scrum invented as a multiple high school crossing excuse to punch each other out and play some ball, it kept getting bigger every time we held it, and somebody went to the hospital every year. I remember in particular helping a big kid named Christopher from the Bonnie Brae neighborhood into the back of a station wagon after he had his kneecap pushed halfway up his thigh.

But busted bones and noses were the standard fare, and hangovers for everyone involved. I cracked my ribs once and took a good shot to the jaw, and I couldn’t laugh or run or cough for a month afterwards. But that was my only notable injury from all those Blood Bowl years. My best bruises I got on the mountain, like two broken thumbs, a concussion and a couple of scars. Which is the irony I guess, that my dad thought we were safer zipping through the trees than we were sprinting straight into each other on the field.

In that same vein, I think a lot of pro athletes hear the word “skiing” and think it’s an immediate invitation to end a career. John Elway, the greatest quarterback to ever play the game of professional football, had it in his contract that he couldn’t hit any of Colorado’s many nearby slopes while he played—I imagine it’s a given in the contracts pros sign now, along with no motorcycle riding, or no pick-up basketball—and he spoofed that very legally binding line item with an ad where he came down the run in a limo fitted with treads, reaching out the automatic window with his ski poles.

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