Archive for January, 2021

© 2021 G.N. Jacobs

“It’s a simple game, really. We run, hit and throw.” – thus sayeth a fictional baseball manager in Bull Durham and perhaps more than few real managers distressed by a complete lack of fundamentals witnessing the train wreck of the local version of the Mudville Nine or even the Bears…yeah, those Bears. The saying also unintentionally touches on a truth that there are perhaps two handfuls of discrete athletic skills that make up the building blocks of all the sports we played in the past or will invent in the future (writers take note). To be more inclusive that pissed off manager might include…Run. Hit. Throw. Catch. Dodge/hop. Strike. Jump. Run into. Grapple. Aim. And Climb. Covers most of them, I think. Sounds sooo very simple…

If this assertion holds true then I think I’ve just explained why most new at the time sports can be evaluated in reductionist terms – “Oh right, I see what those Yanks did taking the eleven-man version of Rugby, added a rigid distance versus attempts requirement, allowed offensive players to run into defenders who don’t have the ball and about two decades later either took a marketing survey about exciting high scoring games or simply gave up enforcing the ban on the forward pass!” We Americans call this holy game Football, despite the rest of the world making a credible case that the other eleven-man game where more kicking takes place should have the name.

FYI, to see Football’s roots in Rugby, open up the two sports’ Wikipedia pages side by side and look at the rules. Football’s residual kicking rules (PATs, field goals, punting and kickoffs) all have direct antecedents on the Rugby pitch. In the early days, you could drop the ball to the grass and attempt a drop kick field goal from anywhere on the field, another direct lift from Rugby. I went looking in the rules to see if this play that hadn’t been seen in at least eighty years had been banned by any of the leagues…the rule still stands. You don’t need to ban something made extremely difficult when you optimize your ball for the forward pass instead of the regular ground game.

You see so many elements that recur across the many sports due to a variety of reasons. When Naismith invented Basketball, players couldn’t dribble as they do now. There is some surviving film showing teams playing this way, catching the passed ball, stopping and either shooting or passing to the next player. Obviously, some fans must’ve conducted experiments and decided they liked the thought of being able to dribble, head fake and drive the lane better. Bouncing the ball on the floor was likely a compromise with the folks reminding the rest that the old rules were designed to avoid picking up the ball and running with it, important because Hoops is supposed to be a non-contact game.

The stop and must pass rule has since become a feature of the otherwise Football inspired Ultimate. Go long. Get clear. Catch the disk. Stop. Throw to the next player running ahead from his place behind. Rinse. Repeat. I’m guessing for the same reasons as why we didn’t used to dribble on the court, running with the Frisbee encourages tackling (run into & grapple) and blocking (pure run into). Pads to keep players safe probably would get in the way of a fun Frisbee game without too much contact to it (not counting going up for the interception).

As writers we have two main choices, set our sports narratives in the real world or make up a new game. I’ve done both depending on my intent. 

I have arbitrarily dropped the, at the time, fictional Los Angeles starting offense into a parallel world where Rome resisted Christianity long enough to develop modern technology, much like the classic Star Trek episode “Bread and Circuses.” Pretty much my elevator pitch went like this – “football players v. gladiators.” Since it was a life or death game, the gladiators lining up over the ball got to keep their knives…not exactly Football as we know it.

I have also realized that the sports my faraway invented realities would develop would be broadly similar to real world sports, but would face play testing decisions that take things in slightly different directions. My funniest effort here is Goven-Hoka. Not very intent on spending too much time inventing a sport down to the nittiest and grittiest rules and penalties. My thought process really was just – “take Football and Soccer, have the referee get bored and blow a whistle to change between rules. Go get lunch.”

A side of eleven stalwart players kicks the ball up to the next player downfield and then the whistle, suddenly the ball handler picks up the ball and advances it under the arm…until the ref arbitrarily blows the whistle at which time the ball must hit the grass again. Believe me, I’m not stupid, I know exactly what this rule does to both games and their players. 

With the exception of the targets carrying the ball, every other player on the football field maximizes conditioning to survive Run Into, which can impede conditioning for other types of running. Conversely, few soccer players ever grow as large as America grows its football players so they’re smaller, faster and in better shape. Once puberty kicks in after the recreational youth leagues, there is very little overlap between Football and Soccer for players playing both sports…pretty much the only guys who played both were the placekicker and a couple guys who were receivers.

Yes, I’m also aware that I created a logical contradiction concerning the game’s equipment that I pretty much punted. A football has the pointy ends to aid flight for the forward pass. A soccer ball is round to aid kicking from the grass. The rugby ball splits the difference to assist in carrying and pitching it, but also to not get in the way of the drop kick goal. Goven-Hoka probably uses a rugby ball, but I didn’t think that far ahead other than I thought it would be funny.

Like anything else in writing fiction, the sports we invent come from all kinds of sources. More recently, I moved to a new house in San Diego. In the real world I didn’t take most of my old crap with me and farmed out the heavy lifting for what I did to guys with trucks and dollies, but still it was stressful enough that suddenly I’m getting ideas…

Couch drag obstacle courses, which for people likely to shop at IKEA first (Me until this move) and also unlikely to hire movers could be a mixed-doubles event. The event allows for the refs to arbitrarily move the boxes holding the breakable glass kitchenware directly into the hallway through which the couch must drag. Lose points for broken stuff. Of course, I’m thinking more of how the event evolves with a budget, say, under the cruel tutelage of those guys that do the Battlebots arenas (who came up with that screw thingy on the far wall?). 

Spring operated Joker-style boxing gloves coming out from the walls. The ref arbitrarily shifts the cant of the floor. Smoke pots. Neutral field players whapping at the couch draggers with martial arts kicking pads from odd angles in the closets.

Of course, if we decided to make sports out of moving, redecorating and remodeling, we’ll actually have to add more events, like Gymnastics, Modern Pentathlon or Decathlon. Furniture Drag, yep. Arguing Over Placing the TV Stand and/or Who Tracked Dirt on the Floor (more of a literary contest like the Dozens, I suppose, or let it go bloody). Auto Race to Home Improvement Store For The One Thing You Forgot The Last Time. And, of course the penultimate event, Swinging Wrecking Tools to Take Down That Wall That Pisses Me Off.

Yeah, that was a weird couple of months, where the only new sporting event I could come up with clearly steals from American Ninja WarriorBattlebots and some scary-ass dystopian whatever that doesn’t even have a movie (Bull@#%t Rollerball!). Oh, and the highlight reel has to be set to that brass-heavy soundtrack from NFL Films (how you used to spend Saturday after the cartoons), just saying.

Anyway, sports are a small integral part of the worlds we create/borrow when we write. Some will set a knifing in the men’s room at SoFi Stadium and just use the sports we already have. Others will set the same knifing at the same stadium a hundred years from now where Football will have even more Bread & Circuses to it and will have evolved (betting the PAT goes first). Others will do the mix and match game trying to get something that might actually arise on the faraway realm of Braetheton. Some will convert the ordinary into an extraordinary new sport. Have fun…