I get paid to watch Yale home football games. Better yet, I get paid to stand on the opposing team’s sideline while I watch Yale home football games. And while it isn’t the Big House or The Swamp, my job has afforded me the opportunity to be a grossly overpaid witness to some pretty trill (read: cool) moments.
When Alan Kimball decided to keep Yale’s Ivy unbeaten streak alive by kicking one between Penn’s collective uprights in overtime last Saturday afternoon, I decided to neglect my duties as ball personnel (the term “ball boy” is for little white kids in oversized t-shirts and adjustable Pawtucket Red Sox caps) and instead rush the field. I could have coolly flipped the ball to one of the officials and sauntered off into the stadium tunnel, looking back briefly with misty satisfaction in my eyes before vanishing into the darkness. But instead I ran to about the 50-yard line and embraced sweaty young men (no SexyBack) while calling my buddy Christian Okoye, a Penn alum and former gridiron participant, to heckle him mightily.
Hey, I didn’t make the rules. When you have the chance to get paid while delighting in triumph over a school with a religiously progressive mascot — one who has been putting your team in the hurt locker since before some of these 2010ers were born — you do that shit.
Sometimes, I think we forget how to embrace the virtues of athletic competition. With the rash of window-smashing, helmet-swinging, parental gun-toting malfeasance that’s been going on of late, it can be easy to forget that sports consist of more than unfortunate sound bites and stadium battle royales. Around these parts recently, it’s been popular to discuss the privilege of athletes in institutions of higher learning and (cry about) how that privilege subverts the preferential treatment already given to regular privileged kids in the same institutions. To be fair in the bitchfest, “athlete” should be generally qualified with the word “good” or perhaps “consequential to someone’s job security,” because not all athletes were created equal. Example: Florida State’s Peter Warrick/ Laveranues Coles shoplifting fiasco circa 1999. While I’ve been known to opine on such matters, I’d rather talk about something Saturday’s game made me miss about sports, something anyone who has played an organized sport at any level can understand: The Sports Fist Pump.
While this pumpery is from the same family as the Random Toad’s Night fist pump (yet is completely unrelated to the alleged fist pump I gave Osama bin Laden), the similarities end there. As some of you know or will find out tomorrow night, the RTN fist pump is fueled by booze and an underlying specter of desperation, a perspective only known to people whose lives will essentially end after graduation. Each pump is like the tolling of the “coolleeeeggeeee” bell, and it is a bell that tolls for them. The instant their fist, cocked back in anticipation, has been loosed — allowed to cut through the humid air in (semi)-rhythmic elation — one can’t help but notice a touch of bittersweetness in the night. For many, these are the days of their lives.
The Sports Fist Pump, or SFP, can also be bittersweet (all you need is a little slow mo and that soft Barbara Walters light); however, its employ is rarely, if ever, sullied by the perspective known to plague its aforementioned black sheep uncle. See, the SFP, like sport itself, is hinged on the purity and possibility of a moment. Both sport and its fist pump exist in the realms of possible greatness and the chance to be a part of something great. I like to think that’s why any of us ever played.
Sure, there are a number of reasons to throw a jersey on. There’s the camaraderie, the desire to win and the prospect of being something of an entity in whatever environ one lives. Still, I think it’s more basic than that. It’s the immersion in The Moment. All those hours of practice, all those hours waiting for your mom to pick you up after all those hours of practice, just to be ready for The Moment, that wrinkle in time when you could throw a hand in the air and scream like you’re afflicted.
Being cut from the cloth of buzzer beaters, Hail Marys and record breaking, the SFP is less rhythm and more reaction. There’s no perspective with an SFP. Its display is too steeped in the present for all that. This isn’t the pump that quietly laments what will soon no longer be; rather, when an SFP comes sailing through the air, it puts a stamp on The Moment and saves it for eternity. Somehow it makes The Moment, which by itself is devoid of time and space, real. Jordan in the ’98 Finals. My little cousin Shawnté when she took one to the house in a Pop Warner football game. Same treatment. Whether it was YMCA league or NCAAs, we put it on the line just so we could say, “I had a moment. Better yet, me and my team had a moment, and when we did, we pumped our fuckin’ fists.”
That’s what I miss. Sure, I’ve had moments in other arenas, but the pump isn’t the same. I find being on stage electrifying, but it’s probably not appropriate to pump a fist after I nail a scene. And while finding that parking space close to the front of the store or getting that paper extension is pretty stellar, it’s not quite the same. Maybe I think the SFP is the best because I have a former competitor’s perspective. At this age, it’s easiest for me to understand: I went toe-to-toe with a tangible opponent, kicked ass and pumped fist. Maybe these are the words of a guy who on brisk autumn nights and warm spring days sometimes quietly wishes things had turned out a little differently, a guy who wishes one good leg were two and, barely out of his teen years, aches at the thought of not being able. I can’t say that I know. What I do know is, on those same days and nights, I really just miss the pump. Peace to breaking streaks.
Penultimate Thought: Yale has a crush on China.
Final Thought: When it’s freezing out, Black people have an inexplicable habit of outdoor-conversation.
Jon Pitts-Wiley is slowly growing his family of fist pumps. Dude, use protection next time.