“He’s a mudder,” is usually a reference to a racehorse who seems to run better when the track is muddy. There are some football teams that seem to play their best in terrible conditions like the Packers and my old team, the Bears. As we watched the playoffs last week, I was trying, rather unsuccessfully I might add, to explain to Peggy why it didn’t necessarily hurt every time one got hit or was knocked to the ground. I also tried to explain how playing on a frozen turf was like playing on solid rock, where playing in the mud could actually be fun. I think my explanation got lost in the translation. But the next day, I started reminiscing about my playing days and even before on the first time I really enjoyed playing football — of course in the mud.
It was not an organized game. Just a group of kids who would get together from time to time and play touch football on a vacant lot. It had been raining for days, and the lot was a sea of mud. Each of us had been admonished to not get our clothes muddy so as we sat on our bikes near the side of the field we knew our game was going to have to be postponed. However, we started passing the ball among us on the street, and before you knew it a pass was missed and the ball landed in the brown slimy field. I don’t remember who ran onto the field to retrieve the ball, but once he found himself slipping and sliding in the mud the game was on. We were diving for catches and sliding for yards in a natural water slide. Everyone of us was soon covered in a layer of dirty, nasty mud, and our touch game soon became one of tackle so that on every play we could slip, splash and get stuck in deeper wet slime. I can remember that day like it was yesterday –Why? Was it the fact that different players excelled when they lost the fear of pain from falling on the hard ground? My friend from 50 years past, Doug Goodman, a fragile child became a terror in the mud. Was it being told to take off every piece of clothes I had on, and then being washed off by a garden hose of freezing water? I don’t think the clothes ever came in the house.
So I ask myself the question, “why such a vivid memory?” Perhaps, as I played in the mud that day, time deepened and slowed. On that vacant muddy lot, I felt a leap of my heart that is real to me still. I saw that day, almost as if from beyond time, that not only was that game was good, but the mud was good, too, even the drizzle and cold were good, even the tackling and blocking I had dreaded as a small child. In that Memphis winter with my mouth full of mud, I could see at least for a moment the ultimate joy and goodness of life. I carry the knowledge I acquired that day with me especially when conditions are at their worst. I learned how to be a “mudder.”
Your Friend, Webb