Offsides: A (Mexican) College Football Season

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Paxton Duff
Paxton Duff

ONEFA and the NFL: Finding a Role Model

December 10, 2017
HALFTIME: San Francisco 49ers 13 – Houston Texans 9

Dr. Lowe (in English): Tom, the TV cameras showed you twitching in the endzone, we think you have a concussion.

Coach O’Brien: Tommy, we’re gonna go with T.J. Don’t worry, it’s not like you’re going to lose your job if you have to sit out…

Tom Savage: Way. I an ok to play, couch (translation: Wait, I am ok to play, coach. — Related: concussions are not a joke.)

Coach: Walter, I think he’s good to go. I’m glad the NFL instituted this concussion protocol, head injuries are serious!

October 6, 2018
HALFTIME: FES Acatlán Pumas 3 – Águilas Blancas IPN 15

Doctor (in Spanish): Yeah, he is definitely concussed. Don’t put him back in the game

Coach: Son, how do you feel?

QB1: What?

Coach: Ok great. You’re going back in the game. This meeting did not happen. (QB1 has recovered from the injury)

As evinced by these sad-but-true scenes, the NFL is thrilled to be a role model for Mexican college football coaches. The partnership between the NFL and ONEFA has never been brighter, as both leagues tackle issues like CTE and national anthem comportment. As a token of gratitude, Roger Goodell provided Las Pumas with this official towel, personalized with our team’s logo. Protect the shield.

A Gringo Walks on

Despite joining Las Pumas two weeks into the season and discovering that I could not play in actual games, I was confident as I walked into my first meeting with head coach Miguel.

Two weeks before the meeting, while speaking with my English-department boss, I restated my only goal for the year: to join the American football team. Her face shone with deep gratitude, for the Fulbright program had clearly provided her a teacher with proper priorities. Having won over my boss, I walked into Miguel’s office wearing black Asics and skinny jeans—I was dressed to impress.

With a look of pure confusion on his face, Miguel sent me to wide-receiver coach Farina, who the wideouts (receptores abiertos) reverentially refer to as ‘Black Diamond.’ Farina told me to meet him on the field, so I quickly borrowed some football pants and a jersey straight out of 2003 before popping on my helmet and pads like a pro. Not realizing that my meeting was actually a normal practice, I made sure to tighten my Asics so that I would not slip in the pouring rain.

Jogging to the WR drill, I was positive—after eight years of competitive golf—that I would be accepted with open arms on the gridiron.

You know that scene from Napoleon Dynamite where Pedro shows up and the only classmate to acknowledge his existence is Napoleon? Ivan, a former California resident as a teen, was my Napoleon:

Ivan: Sup bro, I lived in Cali for a while. Have you played before?

Me: Sí bro, I played in high school**, but it’s been like six years. HAHA!

Ivan: That’s awesome, bro. By the way, your pads are on backwards.

Me: Wow, it’s been too long. We have different pads in the States.

**I played QB for the 2014 St. X Tigers championship intramural squad, so this is what one could call a white lie. So white that it’s almost blinding.

Having shed all illusions of pride, I removed my jersey, flipped my pads around, and proceeded to slip on at least 50 percent of my routes. For the next hour, as I watched the 11 on 11 drills from the sideline, I decided it was time to hang it up; I had achieved my dream.

Just before I could thank Miguel and Black Diamond for giving me a chance and then announce my retirement, Miguel asked me to stand before the team and announced that I would be on the team for the remainder of the season.

With my confidence now restored after my spectacular practice, I asked a teammate to snap a picture of me in the locker room. I had found my athletic destiny.

Losing: a Primer

The Monday that I arrived at practice, the Pumas had just dropped to 1-1, but confidence remained high. We likely needed to win two of our last six games to make the playoffs (difficult!). We proceeded to lose five of six and miss the playoffs (we’ll address the lone win soon). What happened?

At first, I was puzzled by the team’s struggles. We had talent, the defense was stingy, and I was bringing a ton of energy to the scout team. Losing simply didn’t fit into this equation.

Then the next home game happened, and although I sadly didn’t dress, I stealthily took notes from the sideline (just in case the staff was canned and I transitioned into a coaching role like Jason Kidd circa 2013).

Here are some verbatim highlights:

  • Accidentally run our first offensive play with only 10 guys from own 2-yard line.

  • Intentional QB punt on 3rd (?) down. Sign of faith in the offense.

  • Pick up back to back first downs; get called for an ineligible receiver, then holding, then chop block on 3 straight plays. Impressive. Go from 50 to own 15. Punt to own 28. Ideal.

  • 4th and 1 from the 25 and their WR runs into the goalposts, yet still scores a TD.

  • 0/4 on punts getting to midfield. Down 20-0 at the half.

  • If I had a dollar for every one yard QB draw play, I would buy enough protein powder to take his job.

  • We punt on fourth and inches from own 40. Punt makes it all the way to 33!

  • Ref breaks up 3rd down pass. We are definitely paying them. Our ball on own 15 after another penalty.

  • Our punts don’t make it to the first down marker.

  • Worst onside kick attempt ever. We need to watch more football. 27-18 final. Las Pumas won the second half!

A High-Powered Game of Checkers

Needless to say, changes were needed. The following Monday, coach Black Diamond announced that he was taking over play calling for our offensive coordinator, who was no longer with us. Clearly, the influential boosters for the FES Acatlán Texas Longhorn Pumas had seen enough. Before I could begin to process the firing of the OC, whose name I learned only by piecing together the cryptic news of his firing, he was back the next day at practice.

The formerly-former OC returned with the facial expression of somebody that was holding in gas for four hours then was forced to pretend that he liked a really dumb video that you made him watch. I hadn’t the time to laugh at this, for the formerly-former OC was coaching every part of my route-running. Or as I like to call it, the ultimate sign of desperation.

Two days later, HC Miguel decided that this face was unbearable, and Black Diamond took over play calling yet again. Giving his new OC one day to prep for an elite opponent, the Pumas got smashed, and suddenly needed to win the final two games to make the playoffs at 3-5 (very tough division!).

I asked Chucho, who had shockingly overtaken Cobos on the wideout depth chart, what he thought about the game. “It was f—-g s–t, n—–a,” he said, speaking in English to me for the first time.

The following Saturday, Las Pumas pulled off the unthinkable, winning 10-7 at home on a 40-yard field goal as time expired. In a situation more ridiculous than a Panthers’ win in Friday Night Lights season one, the opponents threw a late interception, then jumped offsides on our 45-yard field goal attempt that made it halfway to the end zone. Then we moved up five yards and the miracle occurred.

Despite our failure to win the last game against the undefeated Leones Anáhuac Cancún, the 2018 season is something I will never forget. Here are some of my favorite moments.

Assorted Favorites: ‘Black Horse’ & Clapping

  • Las Pumas literally had the worst kicking season in the history of football, with an extra point percentage that I estimated at 19 percent, just shy of Baltimore Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker’s 99.7 career percentage. As a fellow receiver asserted after we tried four different kickers in one practice, “You would think that out of 75 Mexicans, one guy could kick.” This made the game-winning boot from our backup running back that much sweeter.

  • After the second firing in one week of the offensive coordinator, the quarterbacks’ coach wanted us to embrace our underdog mentality, so we ended every practice with a “1-2-3 black horse” chant. The first two times I heard it, I assumed it was a Spanish term that I was mishearing as “black wh—s” [this is a kid-friendly space]. Later, I explained to some wideouts, to no avail, that the phrase is typically “dark horse.” The better we played, the more I bought in, and now I am convinced that it has been “black horse” the whole time. Go Pumas.

  • The pregame clapping ceremony, summarized in a GIF. This was one of the most bizarre sports experiences of my life. The players line up on each sideline, remove all helmets and hats, and wait for the referee to remove his hat. Upon doing so, everyone in the stadium claps for 60 seconds, uninterrupted. If this doesn’t sound odd to you, set a one-minute timer, look in the mirror, and clap continuously while remaining expressionless. I am sure that we were honoring someone or something very important, but for someone not privy to this information, it is a very long minute.

  • Before our late-season win, a rainstorm of biblical proportions rolled in, and HC Miguel did not care. I dove after a pass into six inches of water, the running backs slipped on every carry, and lighting surrounded us like we were Uma Thurman. HC Miguel would glance to the sky every few seconds and grimace, as players were more likely to be struck by lightning than tackled. I’ll never know which of the 48 bolts on the field forced him to finally cancel practice, and I’m not sure I ever want to know the reason.

  • When a player on the visiting team gets injured, the fans turn it up a notch. Unlike the eerie silence that follows a gruesome injury at a US football game, the fans (read: family and friends—surely there are no die-hard Pumas fans) take it up a notch. A highlight was hearing a grandmother repeatedly tell the officials to “get the trash [opponent player] off the field,” while the fans laughed hysterically every time as if they had not heard her the first four times.

  • Equally amazing is the medical care for injured players. After an opponent slipped and hurt his knee, the medics brought out a full-on body bag to assist him off the field. Always prepare for the worst, as they say.

  • The post-game ceremony runs counter to everything about the injury scene. First, the opposing fans serenade us with our fight song that they somehow know. Then we sing them their fight song, which we somehow all know. To conclude, we sing our own fight song to our fans, complete with all four verses and perfectly choreographed clapping. I don’t know how many hours a new player spends studying his songbook, but I do know that picturing it makes me happy. Go Pumas.

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