My Year Of Boy Football
9:49 AM EST on November 23, 2023
Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, through here. Drew's off this week.
One of the more surprising pulls from my arsenal of personal anecdotes is the fact that I played football, for a year, in fourth grade. It’s best deployed after I’ve talked to someone new for a little while, and they’ve gotten a decent-enough read on who I am today—soft-spoken, trans, really into theater. Even when I just mention I work around a bunch of men in sports, some people will kindly and earnestly wonder if that's a healthy fit for me. (It is; they're wonderful.) So I enjoy bringing my old football experience up, and getting a near-guaranteed laugh when I do, because it’s fun to complicate the narrative. I like seeing the distance between how I’m perceived now and how unremarkable it was that I was a football player then, back in my boy era. I have a card, too, for adorable proof.
(It is too insidery to get into with normal people, but Defector readers are not normal people, so: Yes, it is deranged that I decided on Kyle Boller as my favorite player. As best I can figure, the Lions were bad, and I think I had a monthly calendar of NFL quarterbacks in my bedroom, and I liked his picture. My tastes have changed significantly since then.)
Squeaky prepubescent children playing tackle football in full pads, with all the pomp and circumstance and military intonations around it, is an absurd concept in itself. When one of those kids at linebacker and offensive line is, 19 years later, a blog girl who dresses cute and doesn’t raise her voice, the contrast becomes even sillier. When I'm telling the story, I pick out what I think are real memories that emphasize the incongruent violence of that year of my life. The best is when they’ve never heard of the Oklahoma drill before. I’m pretty sure we did that at least once, as a special treat. My memory is of being lucky and catching the toughest kid off balance on the first try and then getting absolutely blown up as revenge the second time through the line, to the point where I couldn’t breathe for a moment. Again, we were eight and nine years old.
Moving away from my home state at 22 and transitioning in a new city felt in a lot of ways like rebooting my life, and now that womanhood is familiar and routine, I'm detached from that old self. I’m left, then, with artifacts to indicate some sort of narrative arc over the previous 20 years. Like that card. Rather than try to remember what I felt then, it seems more and more natural, and even authentic, to look on my former life like I'm a disinterested historian reaching conclusions from the tangible relics that have survived, and working backward from what's known in the present day.
Looking at it objectively, my year of football fits neatly into a narrative of a trans girl’s childhood—specifically, the trauma (or whatever) of having masculinity forced upon you before you can decide for yourself if that’s what you want. Youth football, with its emphasis on physical toughness, its unbreachable divide between players and cheerleaders, and the all-consuming grip it can hold on your life, is probably the most obvious American space where a young and mostly ignorant boy can unconsciously start to become a straight man.
The problem with this narrative as applied to my own experience is that I'm not so sure it's true.
I know I wanted to quit in the middle of the season, and my parents made me still go to practice, but even then I think the more reasonable explanation is that it’s hard to make a 9-year-old do anything every single day. I felt good cheering for my teammates from the sideline. I savored the sense of scale you got from being on the wide grassy field with the tall bleachers looming over it, the sheer space it had that the basketball gym lacked. I was proud when I recovered a fumble on one of my five or 10 snaps each game. I liked wearing my uniform to school for a Halloween party. I learned a lesson when I let one of my coaches call me the wrong name for a while because I was too scared to correct him, and when my dad set him straight, he told me, very normally, "Hey, bud, you should have said something." I appreciated our quarterback, who was very smart, and was friendly enough to play catch with me while my dad signed me up, and managed to stay The Quarterback through high school without me ever hearing a bad word about him. After I got wrecked on the Oklahoma drill, even, the kid who did it helped me back up—no hard feelings, our partnership on the same side restored. In the end, I didn’t stick with football only because I’d started a season too late to be a key member of the third- and fourth-grade team, and I didn’t want to again be the least of the fifth- and sixth-graders.
When I take account of the unavoidable masculinity of my childhood, it's the choices I couldn't make that I regret more than the stuff that actually happened. Being ushered down one path means you were forced to ignore another. You can be on the football team but not the cheerleading squad; you can listen to Green Day but not Britney; you can go into GameStop but not Claire's; you can have a sleepover with these boys but not these girls. I'm fine having played tough-guy sports, and I'm OK having run through all those other signifiers of boyhood, but what I can't get back is that feeling of incompleteness—the friendships unmade, the fun unhad—because so many options were pointlessly closed off. If I dreamed of a remastered past, it would be one where I could have access to every interest, every means of expression, instead of just the ones that were deemed acceptable. Maybe that even includes football. Or at least flag.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Packers at Lions: The Thanksgiving Lions game is always my Super Bowl. But oh my god, you have no idea how satisfying it is to not have to defend my honor from "the Lions shouldn't have a Thanksgiving game every year" takes this time around. It's so rude that anyone would want to steal literally the one thing we have going for us. This year, though, they're the very best team of the entire tripleheader. No doubters in sight. So if you usually roll your eyes at the prospect of watching Detroit on national TV as a prelude to your feast, I'd like you, this time, to open your mind, enjoy their genuinely impressive array of talent on both sides of the ball, and SUCK IT, LOSERS!
Bills at Eagles: By the way: Hi! I'm Lauren, I do blogs at Defector, and I'm subbing for Drew this week. I'm NYC-based, but a combination wedding/holiday has put me back in my home state of Michigan for an extended trip, so that's why this particular Jamboroo is saturated with Upper Midwestern brilliance. When I'm not doing this, I'm usually writing about hockey, or maybe wrestling or theater. I also run the newsletters at Defector, which means if you're a Pal-level subscriber you can get a 4 p.m. ET email on workdays that's got blogs, outside links, and bonus takes from the staff. It's also where Bear Friday lives!
49ers at Seahawks: I saw the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra last week, and I'd totally have a subscription to it if I lived within 600 miles. This was not a highbrow program—it was video game music—but it was fun and very family-friendly. (There was a costume contest of mostly children at intermission.) It made me want to befriend the conductor, Moon Doh, who put on a Mario cap as the musicians played those instantly recognizable notes at the start. What I appreciated most, though, was the clever arrangement of the Zelda theme. When I think of that music, it's the N64 Smash Bros. version, which immediately follows an overture with the iconic hook. Here, though, they built to it. There was other stuff, and then some amazing soloists doing those notes, and then it finally got bigger. It had me on the edge of my dang seat.
While we're here, my all-time favorite piece of classical music is Prokofiev's "Montagues and Capulets."
Jaguars at Texans
Dolphins at Jets: It's objectively awesome that Amazon paid The Rolling Stones a bajillion dollars to heavily promote a game that will feature Tim Boyle at quarterback. But admit it: You kinda want to see how he does. That's the beauty of the backup quarterback—you can never say with absolute certainty that he's going to be a mess until he actually leaves the sideline and starts inventing new ways to screw up. Come on, check it out. He's gonna throw for more than 50 yards, dude, I swear.
Chiefs at Raiders: A confession I'd like to make is that I mentally censor the word "throwgasms" when I read the Jamboroo. I replace it, instead, with "stars." This is a three-star game.
Bears at Vikings
Commanders at Cowboys: I'm always too busy eating or digesting to really focus on the Cowboys game, but this time around, it'll be even less relevant, because the living room will be zeroed in on Michigan State basketball's game against Arizona, which tips off at 4 p.m. ET. I don't care much either way, because the sunset portion of Thanksgiving is not for college basketball nor thinking about Jerry Jones—it's for laying as horizontal as possible while watching Snoopy wrestle a sentient chair.
Saints at Falcons: I wonder how Drew decides which games to put words next to and which ones to ignore.
Buccaneers at Colts
Patriots at Giants
Browns at Broncos
Ravens at Chargers
Steelers at Bengals
Panthers at Titans: Not unlike my music tastes, my video game habits are completely frozen in time. I have a PS3 at my apartment, where I play like NCAA 12, and I have access to old GameCube games via [REDACTED]. But also, while living the blogger lifestyle at my parents' house in Michigan, I have busted out Rugby 08, for PS2, which I pretty much bought as a bit. It's actually a blast once you understand it, because the game packs all the action of a rugby match into about one-tenth of the time. The coolest thing you can do is what's called a grubber kick. You can't throw the ball forward in rugby, but you can do a low, stabbing kick through the defense and then try to recover the bouncing ball. The absolute most satisfying version, like in the very beginning of this video, is when the player doing the kicking also outraces the whole defense and picks it up himself. If the NFL is missing one thing, it's guys doing this.
As far as I know, you can't do grubber kicks on the PS5, so I'm feeling chill about my very old tastes. But if you have a copy of the new Spider-Man and would like to let me swing around and be like "oooh, I've been there before" when I see New York landmarks, I'd be down. I'd also love to find out what happens in Kingdom Hearts III.
Rams at Cardinals
Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
"Welcome 2 Detroit" by Trick Trick and Eminem. I've been hearing a lot of Slim lately, because the Red Wings started using his "Without Me" outro as their goal song. It works now, but it's not what I'd want to hear if, like, someone scored a go-ahead goal in Game 6 of the conference final. And anyway, there's no better use of Eminem music than the Pistons playing this before tip back at the Palace and back when they had fans. It was nice of Marshall to put his verse first, to help ensure maximum airplay for his relatively little-known friend, but Trick does a great job, too. Brick wall action all the way.
As a white kid from 6 Mile, I am still able to rap all of "Without Me" except the "fix your bent antenna" line, which is too fast.
Eric Adams’s Lock Of The Week: Bengals (+1.5) over Steelers
"Now I've lived in Cincinnati my whole life, and let me tell you: My Bengals might be in a tough spot right now, but that's no reason to give up. Macedonian president Stevo Pendarovski told me at our last high school reunion, 'Eric, when we live in glass houses, we gotta keep throwing stones.' My coach Zac Taylor needs to listen up and take that advice to heart. Make your haters become your evaders when you're chucking rocks in the structures of success."
Fire This Asshole!
Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2023 chopping block:
Josh McDaniels – FIRED!
(*potential midseason firing)
Great Moments In Puke History
Another confession: I skip over your gross poop stories. Sorry. However, in keeping vaguely with the overall theme, I'll say that I'm a real connoisseur of the "suddenly, a person is vomiting" move that you see in a bunch of movies. Few things are as startlingly funny as a smash cut to puke, and Clueless, one of my most loved movies just in general, deploys it flawlessly, especially as paired with Alicia Silverstone's hilarious "love was everywhere" narration.
See Clueless if you somehow haven't. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are in it.
Gametime Michigan Beer Of The Week
Nothing cheap this week. Instead, I'm thinking about Jolly Pumpkin from Dexter, Mich. I know sours are the most polarizing of all the beers, and to some folks it's barely beer at all, but I personally love a pop that gets you drunk. In my experience, nobody does 'em better than these guys. Get La Roja if you can only pick one, and if you're there in person, grab some pizza, too.
Gameday Movie Of The Week For Panthers Fans
Sanctuary. This is just two people, Chris Abbott from Girls and Margaret Qualley from a bunch of things, in a hotel room hashing out a tiny little dispute about how much money a new CEO of a major company owes his longtime dominatrix. Perhaps it's too tasteful a film for me to call it a throwback to the erotic thrillers of old, but it's still twisty, sexy, and unlike anything else I saw in theaters this year. Margaret: We should go to a Devils game the next time you're in Jersey.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
Max Power doesn't abbreviate! Each letter is as important as the one that preceded it. Maybe more important … No, as important.
Thanks for having me, Drew and everybody. I've been reading the Jamboroo for more than half my life, so doing one feels extraordinary to me. Enjoy the games.