Mr. Touchdown U.S.A.+10 if you get that song reference in the title.
Eli 10.1 had his first school flag football game on Friday.
Flag football is an odd little sport, with all kinds of strange rules. Example: the halves are 18 minutes long, and the clock doesn't stop running, but after the clock runs out, there are seven untimed plays at the end of each half. Every rule sounds like somebody sat down with a 16-sided die and just rolled the shit up.
This is a big deal for Eli, though, because it's a school sport, and his friends are on his team. So there's that whole school pride thing going on.
We had a quick dinner before the game on Friday.
"Okay, here are your three keys," I said. "Leadership and hydration." Eli started laughing. I'm always reminding him to drink freely, because it's so freaking hot down here. "Kids on your team are going to get discouraged. They're going to make mistakes. You can't be frustrated with them, because that will make them feel worse. You've got to pick them up and get them to believe in themselves.
"That's only two," he said. "What's the third one?"
"What's the one thing in flag football that can't be countered?" I asked.
He thought about it for at least 15 seconds. "I don't know," he said. "What?"
"Speed," I said. "In tackle football, power counters speed, but in flag, speed rules. So don't make five cuts when you have the ball. Make one cut, and get to top speed as fast as you can. I guarantee you'll be the fastest kid on the field, and nobody will catch you."
"Got it," he said. "Thanks, Dad."
Eli is the number one receiver, the middle linebacker, the kicker, the punter, and the kick and punt returner. He never comes out of the game (no one does--they only have 8 players, which is how many players are on the field).
There are basically two offenses in fifth grade flag football: the "two guys run the ball all the time" offense, and the "throw 5-yard slants" offense. Eli's team runs the slants offense, and they have a quarterback who has a very nice arm (Eli is the backup quarterback, too).
The way the passing offense works, literally, is that almost every play is a five-yard slant or a quarterback scramble. When passes are completed, flags are almost immediately pulled, so gains over 7 or 8 yards are exceedingly rare.
When the game started, Eli's team was on defense. He made two of the three tackles, and the other team punted. They punted away from him (a friend from his YMCA soccer days was on the other team, and he had warned their coach, believe it or not), and the punt went all the way down to the 2-yard line.
I was sitting with Gloria, next to the quarterback's dad. "So here's what's going to happen," I said to Gloria. "Michael is going to hit Eli in stride on the slant and he's going to score." The dad laughed.
Clearly, he does not know my son.
The ball was snapped, and Michael did indeed hit Eli in stride about 5 yards down the field. "He's gone," I said. The dad laughed again.
Then Eli started running past people, right toward us. "GO!" yelled the dad. "GO!" Eli looks like this funky combination of giraffe and gazelle when he runs, and his strides are huge. Half the opposing team had an angle on him, and he just ran right past them anyway.
I'd like to say he went for a 98-yard touchdown (actually, 78, because it's a shorter field), but their fastest player (and the last one back) had an angle and managed to pull his flag at the last possible moment.
After 48 yards.
Eli's team had about 150 yards of passing on 15 completions. Eli had five catches for 97 yards. On four of those catches, he was one player away from scoring. The coach on the other team was going absolutely bonkers trying to stop him.
Eli really enjoyed that.
He also had nine tackles on defense, which doubled the tackle total of any other player.
His team dominated the game (his teammates played very well, and there was only one dropped pass the whole game), but they couldn't score. It was 0-0 all the way into the untimed plays of the second half. Then, on the fourth play, Michael completed a pass to the center (an eligible receiver in flag football). He's a terrific center (very accurate snapper), but as a receiver, he's very big and very slow. So he caught the pass on about the ten yard line, turned, and headed for the end zone. It was like watching an NFL films production, because he looked like he was running in slow motion. Over those 10 yards, at least five kids grabbed for his flag.
They all missed.
He rumbled into the end zone with the unlikeliest touchdown of the season, surely, and they were ahead 6-0.
The other team had three plays left to score. Eli made a tackle, knocked down a pass, and then made the tackle on the final play. Game over.
"Do you know what I was thinking when Gary was running with the ball?" Eli asked as we walked back to the car.
"No, what?" I asked.
"RUN, BIG MAN, RUN!" he said, and laughed.