American Football: The Superchargers and the scar spangled banner

By Charlie Wells

 

I am watching the San Diego Super Chargers play the reigning superbowl champions; The Seattle Seahawks.  It is the second game of a sixteen round fixture, that will pave the way to the Superbowl come February 2015.  I will be one year older and hopefully a little more sensible when the dust settles,, and the victorious billionaire hoists the Vince Lombardi trophy high. Won, as it will be, on the exhausted backs of mere millionaires, who will forever wear a ring of brotherhood.

 

It is a stiflingly hot southern California Sunday.  Jack Murphy stadium: rebranded as “Qualcomm stadium,” is packed to the rafters with 45,000 randy supporters. All loyal to the cause. Men, women and children, decked out in the Chargers livery: blue, gold and white.  Many of the rough younger barrackers sport neck tattoos of the Chargers “Bolt” logo. I know several who have branded themselves in this way and know they live in fear of an unknown future…

 

Notorious for underperforming seasons the Chargers seem to live in a state of siege,  Coach implosions.  Relentless horse trading of players.  An ongoing swirl of agitation that the stadium is deficient, and needs to be razed that a new complex of corporatism might rise.  They sweat that the owners might rise to the bait and pack up shop at any time. Setting sail for a new home port to fly the piratical Bolt flag.  The franchise spirited away on the bloodless balance sheet of profit and loss.  Liquored up  by the wooing of  those barren cities that covet the NFL at any cost.

 

Overburdened taxpayers be damned. They could become NFL  nomads like the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders.  The Los Angeles/St Louis Rams, and other franchises in the MLB, NBA and NHL that have also said: “Adios Amigo’s,” to their home port – the four food groups of American sports.  For a greenback dollar they could become “The Idaho chargers” – maybe Hawaii, or even Alaska could swing a deal.  All things being possible in the boardroom far from the true fans influence.    Leaving the jilted locals with their prominent neck tattoos to either cheer through gritted teeth, or search the San Diego Reader for laser tattoo removal clinics, 10% off the first procedure paving the way away from Superchargerdom.

 

The thought of  it makes the gut wrenching removal of South Melbourne to Sydney, and the demise of the Roy Boys, all the more profound in my life.  It even conjures the joke of the Colliewobbles. The one where Collingwood moves to the Philippines to fly the flag of the Manila folders.  As a Geelong supporter, whose club only survived through the astute leadership of Frank Costa, Neil Balme, a well contracted bootstudder, and so many other unsung heroes, it gives me pause.

 

Today hopes are high among the faithful.  It is baking hot, unseasonable Australian openesque weather, 110 F/ 42 C on the turf. The commentators talk of IV’s in the rooms to keep the players hydrated. Gatorade is making out like a bandit on it’s NFL sponsorship deal. It’s HOT,HOT, FARKING HOT…  Perhaps, just maybe, the rain soaked mob from Seattle will be undone by Philip Rivers, his associates and San Diego’s solar powered supercharging.  I am watching on TV and former Melbourne full back, the trail blazing Chargers punter, Darren Bennett is being interviewed on the local FOX pregame show.  Rupert Murdoch’s tentacles taunt me.

 

I am often informed  by the local Charger faithful of their esteem for Mr. Bennett. His booming drop punts and defensive pressure have well and truly punched his ticket in San Diego.  Indeed, Darren is often: Men At Work, Steve “CRIKEY” Irwin and shrimps on the barbie aside, all they know of our Island continent.  I long ago gave up on spruiking our great game to the local NFL horde. It’s akin to selling ice to the Eskimos, oil to Arabs, real footy to Banana benders. Bennett looks tanned, well fed and prosperous. His Wife, at his side, is beautiful. Life has been kind to Darren and his ambitions.

 

The game is about to start and I am dialed in.  Seated, as I am, in air conditioned discomfort.  Sixty odd other sober fans are hooting in anticipation. Sitting as we are in knotted clusters.  Falling into line with our allegiances. We have no beer to drink, no sausages to sizzle.  Our women and children are far from our loving arms. For we are inmates in the San Diego County Jail. Living up to the self described, ”world’s finest city,” punchline.  “Come on vacation, leave on probation.”  Or worse…   Even those with other passion will today, root, for the home team.

 

The game is played over four grinding quarters.  Slowly and methodically.  Helmets, big bodies, pads crashing.  It’s a game of yardage, that often comes down to inches in the clutch.  Arcane, confusing rules.  Flags, timeouts. 1 st downs, 4th & goal. Two point conversions. Offense. Defense. Special teams, coaches, cheerleaders and Budweiser beer.  Replays, and replays of the replays.  The players, especially the stars, are compensated in the stratospheric millions. By comparison the AFL is a minnow swimming in the shadow of a blue whale.  And I think I like it that way.

 

I have watched the rehabilitation of Wayne Carey with interest. The resurrection of G. Ablett Senior’s reputation and wait, with hope, for Liam Jurrah’s future.   But theirs are pale woes when compared with the tresspasses of the NFL’s behemoths.  The topic du jour is the penance to be demanded of Ray Rice, who, having knocked his then girlfriend into next week, has been sacked.  The NFL’s latest miserable asterisk of piss poor behaviour.  Joining the pregnant girlfriend, murdering, Rae Carruth, one time glamour quarterback Michael Vick, who matched pit bulls in fights to the death for his own sick gratification.  And lest we forget accused rapist Ben Roethlisberger. Well, to be fair he was just accused, but chose to settle rather than have his day in court.  These “athletes”, being just the tip of the felonious iceberg.

 

Unworthy souls who could easily be seated in our company of jailhouse villains. Comparatively, my mob are choirboys. Well, not really.  We’ve got gangbangers, rapists, murderers, bawlers and brawlers.  Drugs, thugs and mugs like me.  Anticipation is high in our tank: number 9 D. We are a motley lot. All taking a deep breath before we are shunted off to our eventual destinations.  Some, like myself will soon be home.  Others will embark on long grinding prison terms. Where creature comforts and breaks from brutal and grinding monotony will be hard to find.

 

I look around my table and sip my canteen coffee.  Confined men will talk. Like women at a hen’s night. Gossiping, speculating, clucking things.  It is at this moment I realize I have come to know many of these men’s stories, many intimately, as a confidante.  The drugs, alcohol and ruin.  The blight, regret and lost dreams.  I ponder my gratitude, and am thankful that I will be home for the Superbowl, having tidied up my mess.  Many of my fellows will not be.  If they’re lucky they’ll see the grand decider in this room or one much like it.  And for a few hours it will warm their air conditioned bones. I find myself singing Don Walker’s song, four walls, as the game ramps up. I wonder what kind of songs Don, or his protege Paul Kelly, would write about American sports and incarceration.  I am sorry to say I have written a couple of toe tappers on the subject.

 

As I write this down with my trusty Golf pencil on a yellow legal pad, I realize  that most anyone reading this has no experience with incarceration at any level.  It is, much like professional sports, a tough predatory environment.  Unforgiving of weakness.  Amplified as it is by all kinds of tension – race being the most obvious. Here we are basically divided into three groups, each with a subset. Whites, Blacks and Hispanics.  Broken down into cliques, Peckerwoods, Nazi white power, Skinheads, Southsiders, Nortenos, Crips, Bloods and on and on. Yet here we sit, unified for the contest at hand.

 

The pre-game is in full swing. A local beauty steps up to sing the American national anthem – The star spangled banner. I Stand respectfully to one side, a couple of my felonious brethren stand with hands on reverent hearts.  Most sit sullen, for the America outside has left them far behind, but the game of football has not. The singer begins. It is a demanding song.  Full of swoops and trills that challenges the finest vocalists, and leaves the clumsy humiliated.  San Diego being a military town, the navy buzzes the field. Four F-14’s, the kind Dr. Deniz Tek flew, blast across the TV screen.  A marine out of nearby Camp Pendleton , trailing a billowing stars and stripes the size of Rhode Island, parachutes into the stadium with a Susan B Anthony dollar for the tossing.

 

Philip Rivers, the San Diego Chargers quarterback, calls heads. It’s a good call. He elects to receive the punt kick that starts the proceedings. It’s game on. Rivers moves the ball efficiently up the field, ably supported by his spry and wily receivers. He is powerfully protected by behemoth lineman. Everyone under lock and key is happy as the Chargers, supercharge, to a crisp lead.  My fellow inmates are on song. Hooting and hollering – even if they say, go the Packers, the Bears – or heaven forbid, the Oakland Raiders. Today, in the San Diego County Jail, they are all  Chargers.

 

Gridiron is a tough game.  Do not be deceived by the helmets and pads. It is bone crunching stuff. About a year or two gone, San Diego lost one of its favorite sporting sons, the formidable Junior Seau.  A linebacker, who tragically chose to end his own life.  It was felt, and argued, that years of brutal head knocks had contributed to his death.  A timely reminder of the vulnerability of the biggest and toughest of men.  It is a lesson some of us in the jail would do well to learn. Perhaps for some of us it’s not too late.

 

Seattle challenges, but never quite gathers the momentum to win.  It’s a soda for San Diego. The Dago mob winning 30 to 20.  Around our stainless steel tables, and exposed dunnies, there are high fives and smiles all around. A pool on today’s games (tipping comp) has been run and won.  The commodities wagered will now be ponied up to cover the bets.  Packages of mayonnaise, instant coffee, candy bars, valium, heroin. All is fair game, on the game. FOX TV crosses to the midwest for the Chicago Bears game at Soldiers field. Chicago, where in a matter of weeks it will be colder than a witches tit.  Far from today’s heatwave the American winter game will traverse many frozen fields en route to that first Sunday in February. Will San Diego be in the hunt? Only time and tide will tell the story.

 

Tonight, as we line up to be counted for the umpteenth time today, they are winners and by default so are we. All are happy.  Even the punitive, dickless deputies, who mock our daily routines. There’s even some banter between the opposite sides of our fence.  Unusually strange bedfellows. The die hard tune in for the Bears game. Even as the patchwork inmate  quilt segregates back into its cliques.   Pinochle games, dice, chess and jailhouse lawyering begin again. Normal programming has resumed. A young guy I am friendly with, tells me he is going to plead to a second strike tomorrow. It will put him away for a twenty year State Prison term. He’s taking one for the team: as absurd as that sounds. He has a three year old daughter.  “What about them Chargers…?” He says, steering the conversation away from his bleak future. Today he is happy to be a winner. At least in the world of professional sports.

 

I note the lightning bolt tattoo on his neck, and I consider the folly of the fan and the tribulations of life. Mine seem suddenly small. The AFL Grand Final is two weeks out and I find myself wondering if the inmates at Barwon, the girls at Dame Phyllis Frost (maybe there’s a few Bloods jammed up in Long Bay) if they’ll be able to watch the game?  I wonder how many young Australians know the story of Wilfred “Chicken” Smallhorn and his Changi Brownlow medal won while incarcerated as a POW. Different from my circumstance, to be sure, yet just as surely, far away from freedom.

 

I consider the power of a game played by vigorous  young men and the passions it raises. Especially for those who have surrendered their right to self determination.  I also consider Rae and Ray, (Carruth and Rice)  and wonder if they watched today’s games and realize what they squandered.  I look about me and realize how little I know of the men I sleep with cheek by jowl.  Who evacuate their bowels in my plain sight. Who shamefully visit their children, as I do, behind a glass divider, speaking on a telephone.

 

I’ve watched American football for nearly twenty years with a damp enthusiasm.  I’ve never been emotionally invested in a team. Maybe the Oakland Raiders 2002 futile trip to the super bowl. Today though, I can say I’m in.  I’m hopping on the San Diego Chargers bandwagon. Hoping they can roll on in the weeks ahead.  I will be sent home ahead of round nine when the Chargers make a contest against the hated Oakland Raiders. The Collingwood of the NFL.  I will get my marching orders about 6 AM and start going about my business, now unencumbered by the man’s demands. By nightfall someone will be in my rack. He’ll be meeting Tony, Chicken, Playboy, Ron the con and shitbag Shawn – all the boys  still stuck in 9 D. I’ll wonder what he did, and how long he’ll stay.

 

Come that first Sunday in February I’ll be hoping the Chargers have defied the odds and made it through to the winners circle. I’ll think of the boys in the SDCJ, Chino, Donovan State pen. That the girls at Los Colinas are rooting(sic) for their team, and that it makes their long sad days better.  Living, as they are, in a world that is standing still. That there’ll be a happy riot going on in cell block #9, as the San Diego Chargers, take home the Vince Lombardi trophy.

 

 

CODA. They didn’t. They stunk it up in the weeks that followed.. The closest parallel being Richmond when they rocket into ninth place. As of this writing the billionaires have a gun to the head of the taxpayers. Build us a new stadium or we’re gone baby gone.

 

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Some powerful images there Charlie, I get the feeling that there might be more to come from you. Thanks.

  2. Earl O'Neill says:

    Great piece Charlie, many thanx.
    The Rams have returned to Los Angeles this season.

  3. Charlie- great title (“scar”) and a moving, poetic piece. As a NFL fan I follow the Broncos and enjoy the contrast between the chess-like strategy and the sheer athletic skill, particularly of the more offensive sides.

    Like Swish, I’m keen to read more from you.

  4. Charlie Wells says:

    I had forgotten about this one. It resurfaced after the Kapernak (SP) protest over the wanton murder of mostly black minor offenders. His refusal to stand for the anthem, and also by Mundie”s over active jaw.
    In my time here i’ve had a few scrapes with the law, and in one case was nearly smoked by a sheriff on a lonely mountain road. (Not proud of it.) But that’s another story. Normal programming will resume. Back to my Cats. Thanks for the positive feedback.

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