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Soup of This Day #111: It Took Me Four Days To Hitchhike From Saginaw

December 22, 2011

Water buffalo racing at Babulang
Water buffalo. Milk them carefully – Photo: Bill Timmins, 2006. Bill Timmins is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

The score of 111 (or multiples thereof) is considered to be an auspicious 1 in cricket, particularly in England. Such a total is called a Nelson, allegedly as it refers to British Admiral Horatio Nelson’s lost eye, arm and leg. This is seemingly apocryphal as Nelson had both legs intact when he died. Perhaps 1 of them went to sleep at some point – This might help to explain why adherents to the superstition stand on 1 leg when the score is registered.

Traditionally this has been an umpire – A batsman standing on 1 leg is liable to find the score is pretty unlucky as he’s susceptible to being unbalanced and thus bowled or, worse, hit in the nether regions. He will have halved his chances of getting out leg before wicket though.

Recently, as South Africa was chasing down Australia’s paltry 2nd innings of 47 in the Cape Town Test, the Saffers had batted their total to within 111 runs of victory. The time at which this occurred was 11:11am. Furthermore, the date was the 11th of the 11th, 2011. Most of the crowd consequently stood on 1 leg. I didn’t – I was driving at the time and my car is a manual – My scant regard for superstition is probably why South Africa was successful in the chase but also a key reason as to how I got home with the Hyundai unscathed.

Still, with superstition in mind I’d like everyone to stand on 1 leg while reading this post, the 111th Soup of This Day. This does mean that you probably shouldn’t read this while driving a stick-shift.

This post is about American Football. Specifically the National Football League (NFL). It’s not necessarily a post you should take to the academic bank – I am not an expert on the NFL. In fact I’m writing this article principally because I’m not really across American Football as a sport.

Sure, I’ve watched a bit of it. Over the years a good number of games have found their way on to Australian free to air television. I used to catch a game a week plus highlights of the others and where feasible I’ve made time to catch the Superbowl. As such I grasp the basics of the game and I like those enough to turn a blind eye to stuff that would ordinarily irk a lot of Australians – Such as the part where it’s called ‘football’ when clearly the foot-meets-ball stuff is minimal at best. Also the sheer size of playing squads makes it bewildering to tag who is actually doing what – It’s great to know it’s ‘Tebow-time’ but just what are those other 57 dudes up to? These things though are minor beefs – Mostly I enjoy watching a game. Something that has helped with this is that I don’t follow a team – I’ve never made a commitment. This means I get to approach each game with a detached air – I get to just enjoy the football – See, I even called it ‘football’ and I didn’t so much as wince.

I did sort of follow the Cleveland Browns in the 80s and through the early 90s. The problem with the Cleveland Browns is that they are hard to like. Some teams are lovable losers, historical buffoons who you can’t help but feel sorry for. The Chicago Cubs are in this zone – It’s hard to hate a team that goes so close yet just doesn’t seemed destined for success. That they seem to carry on keeping on with a phlegmatic acceptance that is both fanatical and good-humoured makes them likeable. If the Red Sox lost to them in a World Series I’d be cut but I’d give a little shrug and a tip of the hat to the Cubs faithful – They deserve a win.

The Cleveland Browns are not the Cubs. They are not so bad that they are good. They are so bad that they are just bad and we’re not just talking about on the field, although in that arena they have been pretty ordinary for nearly 50 years. They have yet to win or even feature in a Superbowl, although they were a reasonably successful outfit pre-Superbowl era, winning 4 NFL championships, the last of which was in 1964. It’s worth noting though that the Browns are 1 of only 3 teams yet to feature in a Superbowl – The other 2 are the Jacksonville Jaguars, an expansion club from 1995 and the Houston Texans, an expansion club from 2002.

I want you to know that I tried Cleveland. I really did. I just couldn’t like your team. It didn’t help that the Browns were owned by Art Modell – Even at his best he wasn’t a guy you got behind and in 1995 he announced a pretty impressive betrayal, deciding to pick up the Browns and move them, lock stock and barrel, to Baltimore to become the Ravens – Reactions weren’t great and the chucking of seats and the starting of fires in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium didn’t look great to a guy wavering on the sidelines of neutrality. The Browns came out of hiatus in 1999 and are currently owned by Randy Lerner, who also owns Aston Villa in the English Premier League.

I don’t like Villa.

Around the time that the residents of the Dawg Pound were rioting at Modell’s act of bastardry another team came into focus. Their punter brought them there, which is a little unusual. Generally punters are innocuous – They come out with the special teams guys, loft the ball and then get the hell off the field before they accidentally get hit. Rookie Darren Bennett was not your typical punter though – In his 1st season, punting for the San Diego Chargers, the 196cm, 106kg Bennett knocked out a punt returner, stopping a near-certain touchdown and putting his oft-forgotten role firmly in the spotlight.

Bennett was already in the spotlight in Australia. He’d grown up in Perth, Western Australia and had played Australian Rules Football for East Fremantle (The Sharks) in the Western Australian Football League (WAFL) and then the West Coast Eagles in the Australian Football League. He went on to play for the Melbourne Demons as well and was known for his prodigious kicking, gaining serious length via torpedo kicks. In the early 90s he chanced his boot out in the NFL. The Chargers gave him a shot and he made his debut as a 30 year old in 1995, making Pro Bowl at the 1st time of asking. He would later be selected as the punter in the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s. Darren Bennett played for the Chargers through to 2003, before being picked up by the Vikings across 2004/05. At 40 years of age though his body had taken a beating and he retired in 2005, the most successful Australian export to the NFL.

So I almost always have a companionable doff of the cap for the Chargers. In fact there are 3 Australians currently on NFL senior lists, across the Eagles, Jets and Cowboys so I should salute those outfits too. On the supplementary lists Australia is also represented at the Packers and the Patriots.

Green Bay is a team that a lot of neutrals want to see do well. The concept of an NFL franchise for a community of just on 100,000 is astonishing. That the franchise has been going since 1919 and has been successful enough that Green Bay, Wisconsin, can be called ‘Titletown’ is something else. And they’ve got that whole, ‘I’m an owner. No, I’m an owner. Oh wait, we’re all owners’ thing going on. Sure it’s borderline commie but it seems to have produced a happy and stable fanbase. Not to mention possibly the nicest owners in US sport. Maybe I wanna be a cheesehead too?

I’m not sure I said that right but I do like cheese. I’m for cheese.

I once had a job looking over academic publications. A paper came across my desk 1 day that was about wild water buffalo mozzarella. Apparently it’s the pinnacle of mozzarella and as a bonus it makes use of the introduced water buffalo that plague Australia’s Top End. I had to chase up the author to find out some information re publication dates or something like that and so curious I asked her:

‘Just how do you milk a wild water buffalo?’

‘Carefully,’ she said.

Which makes sense.

It Took Me Four Days To Hitchhike From Saginaw

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