|In February, 2017, I began a monthly column for my home town paper, The Yuma Pioneer, wherein I attempt to discuss lessons (valuable and otherwise) I learned as a horrible six-man football player on the High Plains. I shall archive them on this page, or not, as time permits.
I used to love concussions. I reckon I had two of 'em in my time as a six-man footballer. We'd kick off, and then everybody would sprint at each other like a pair of Red Rover teams gone mad. The objective was to knock somebody's block off, preferably someone from the opposing team. On two occasions, I'd actually managed to tee-up someone and slam into him. Boom! Next thing you know, I'm peering out of the earhole of my helmet and one of my teammates is saying, "Dude, do you know where you are?" And then, as the sparkles melt away from my eyes, my muddified brain tells me to say, "Blue." Which is hilarious because blue is a color, not a place. And then my teammates would gently turn me around because I was walking toward the wrong sideline.
Sit on the bench, helmet off, dreamy haze. A little while later, Coach asks if I'm ready to go back in and I say, "Yes," because I don't fear concussions, because they're fun! So I'd go back in and play the rest of the game, badly, which always went unnoticed because I played badly under all circumstances. Then, after we lost the game, everyone would have a laugh at how discombobulated I was. It's a blast, seriously.
Even after my football days were over, in my mid-twenties, a buddy and I played a game where we'd roll up a newspaper and whack each other on the forehead. Why? Because it was fun!
Is running full speed into a guy holding a football any less stupid? As football players in the late 80's and early 90's, we kind of knew that concussions were kind of bad, but we also figured we'd be fine once the old cobwebs had cleared out of the old noggin.
Now, thanks to our good pal, science, we know just how unhealthy concussions can be. And yet I still hear arguments that go like this, "NFL players need to stop acting like wimps. They know what a concussion is and they get paid too much money to start whining when they develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy."
I can't think of a single thing about that argument that holds merit. Unless, of course, you consider If you get paid a lot of money, then you shouldn't be a wimp to be a valid point of debate, which it isn't. 
Certainly, all football players know that they're going to bang their heads. But do they understand the true consequences of all that headbanging? Way back when, in the distant year of 2010, who knew that linemen could develop CTE simply due to an accumulation of micro-concussions that occur on play after play? The NFL did and yet they denied it. In doing so, they deceived their players (and fans). Give the NFL credit, at least they had a sound argument. If players (and fans) were to understand the consequences of concussions, they might stop playing (and watching), and that would slow down the river of money.
The NFL put its players at risk in the name of profit. Yes, people have always kind of known that playing football was unhealthy. But they didn't always know the extent to which the sport could destroy their lives. And that kind of makes me sick.
All of this begs the question, "Given what you know, Mr. Righteous Pants, do you still watch football?" I'll have to think on that one. Can I get back to you after the Superbowl?
 I've just employed a strawman argument, which is bad writing. But, just like Loretta Lynn in a cornfield, I stand by my strawman.
 "Don't be a wimp" is something third-graders shout at the indecisive kid lingering at the edge of the high dive, not something adults shout at someone who (a) played professional football and (b) can no longer remember his own address.
 For evidence, the documentary League of Denial is a good place to start.
We’re all aware of Vince Lombardi’s legendary quote, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."  Today, I shall argue that winning isn’t a thing at all.
Changing our final record didn’t change the fact that, in our newly-discovered victory, Woodlin had forty-fived us before the fourth quarter, it didn’t change the fact that our running back twisted his ankle and had to sit out our next game, and it didn’t change the fact that Woodlin would have beaten us even if half of their team had been on the down-list.
In reality, Woodlin “won” the game. The players they put on the field trounced the players we put on the field. In another reality, Liberty “won” the game. The players we put on the field did not violate eligibility rules. Even though we lost the game, we won the game, simply by not cheating, which is the equivalent of passing a test because you spelled your name right at the top of the paper.
But I don’t care about any of that, because, as I mentioned five paragraphs ago, winning isn’t a thing.
Well, obviously, that’s silly. Without winning, how would we know for certain that the Broncos won Super Bowl 50? How would we know who earned the most money on Jeopardy last week? Without winning, how would we know that we live in the greatest country in the history of the world?
Hang on a minute. How do we know that we live in the greatest country in the history of the world? It’s not like the United States competes in an annual Greatest Country in the World Contest. And if we did, and if we won, I’m fairly certain that someone would claim that the referees were being paid off, and therefore declare the results invalid.
I mean, I sure do like living here. But I really don’t know a whole lot about the other 195 nations on Earth. I hear things are pretty good in Norway; low crime, great health care, lots of fjords. Maybe Norway’s the world’s greatest country. Maybe it’s Canada, or Costa Rica, or some place in Africa. Who knows? Who cares? I like it here. This is where I'm from.  I love our free press, free speech, and freedom of (and from) religion. The Bill of Rights is awesome! The constitution was a brilliant document! I love Colorado! I love Yuma County!
That’s good enough for me. My self-esteem ought not to hinge on whether I’m a citizen of the world’s greatest country, or if my football team won one or two games, or if I’ve once again failed to write a coherent column.
In fact, there are many cases I’m just as happy to lose as to win, which is why I often do things that might seem nutty to an outside observer. When I fail at something--which is often--I endeavor to examine where I went wrong, take note of where I managed to go right, and then move on just a little wiser for having taken a risk. Or, in the case of six-man football, I was able to move on with the understanding that, no matter how many games we won in 1990, I would be wise to never touch a pigskin again.
 For the record, Lombardi appropriated the quote from a guy named Red Sanders, coach of the UCLA Bruins, who was apparently saying it as early as 1950.
 Speaking of which, George Bernard Shaw may have been onto something when he said, in 1893, “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it....”
I used to hate Arickaree School. Really, really hate them. In the eighties, Arickaree had an incredible run in basketball and football where they beat Liberty, like, a thousand times in a row. Arickaree was Gargamel and we were a bunch of Smurfs . I didn't hate just the athletes, I hated the coaches, I hated the parents, I hated their school colors (green and yellow), and I hated the Yuma Pioneer for printing articles with headlines like "Osthoff Scores 112 Points on Struggling Liberty Hoopsters." 
 I'm assuming everybody on Earth knows who the Smurfs are. If do not know who the Smurfs are, consider yourself lucky.
 This is not a real headline.
 Anybody who beats you all the time is your rival, even if that rivalry isn’t reciprocated.
 One example: Their basketball coach drew up this clever screen play for missed freethrows, and it tricked us every time. That wasn't cheating, it was thinking.
Today, rather than discuss 6-man football, I'll focus on the NFL, with a particular focus on referees. As a reminder, a referee is someone who wears a black and white shirt, who exists in a land where nothing is black and white, and who is loathed because he  has the final say. Let's examine the previous sentence clause by clause:
A referee is someone who wears a black and white shirt… The striped shirt is not very fashionable. I wouldn’t recommend wearing one to a wedding, or funeral, or any non-sports engagement. However, the design stands out nicely in a crowd and so it works well in a ball game.
…who exists in a land where nothing is black and white… You know how, when you’re watching the Broncos and you throw popcorn at the TV because the refs didn't see the defensive back interfere with Demaryius Thomas? Meanwhile, on the same play, a fan in Massachusetts is throwing Boston cream pies at his TV because the officials failed to flag Demaryius Thomas for interfering with the defensive back. Two fans watching the same television broadcast, but seeing opposite things. Clearly, at least one person is mistaken here. So why is everybody throwing food? Because, when it comes to judgement calls, nothing is black and white.
…and who is loathed because he has the final say. This, to me, is the key to this discussion, because it’s not entirely true. The referees do not have the final say. They have a say in the final say, but I'd argue that the players have a greater say in the final say than the referees. After all, the players are the only people in the game who can actually score the points that end up on the scoreboard, and the scoreboard is the final, final say.
1) Referees are humans and humans make mistakes.
This is why you get people in Denver and Boston throwing food at their TVs for the same play but for opposite reasons. Which is fine; a little cognitive dissonance within a football game isn’t going to hurt anyone.
 I say, “he,” but with the understanding that women are also perfectly capable of officiating sporting events.
In 1990, the Liberty Black Knights won a total of one football game, against the Bethune Bobcats. Given how crummy we were, the Bobcats must have been having a very bad day. But we clobbered them (by two points) and in doing so, I learned what it's like to crush an opponent (by two points). For once, my team got to smile as we went thru the end-of-game good-sportsmanship handshakes.
 To be clear, I do not object to the use of sailor-speak. In fact, I'm a big fan of it, as long as it's used for constructive purposes.
 Peter 3:9, New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Edition
My name is Gregory Hill, and today I’m writing as a former, and really awful, six-man football player for Liberty High School. When I was a freshman, we lost all of our games Because of this, and because I didn’t like getting my butt kicked all over the field, I skipped the next two years. As I senior, I returned to the team, but only because I lost a bet. (The story of that wager is funny, very long, and would impugn the dignity of several humans if I were to tell it here.) We won one game that year. (For the record, in the two years I didn’t play, the team was phenomenal. You do the math.)
No matter how I felt about the sport, it did, as coaches always promise, impart some valuable life-lessons. In this column, which I hope to write once a month, I shall divulge some of those lessons. Today’s lesson is:
Six-Man Football is a Reasonable Approximation of the Urban-Rural divide.
If you’ve ever looked at an electoral map, you are at least casually familiar with the Urban-Rural divide; the cities are blue and the rural areas are red. Why is this? One depressingly popular answer is, “It’s because those people in [insert region of your choice] are dummies.” Or they’re elites, or they’re vulgar, or violent, or lazy, or…
I’m of the radical opinion that people are the same from one region to the next, it’s just that different regions require us to behave in specific ways in order for us to get along within those regions. It’s no wonder then, that when people from red areas meet people from blue areas, there’s going to be some cultural confusion.
Which brings us back to six-man football. First, is six-man football actually football? My broken pinkie and crummy knee would say yes. However, if, in 1987, someone had plucked me off the 80-yard field where I played a position known as guardtackletightendwidereceiver, and then brought me to Denver and tossed me onto a 100-yard field in the midst of a varsity eleven-man team, I would have been dead within moments.
Because, while six-man football is football, it is not eleven-man football. You can’t play eleven-man when there aren’t even eleven boys in your entire high school. Which is why somebody had to invent six-man football, a game similar to eleven-man, but with significant differences in the rules.
In six-man, it takes fifteen yards to get a first-down, hand-offs are illegal, quarterbacks can’t run the ball, anyone is eligible to receive a pass, and so on. My favorite rule was the 45 Rule, aka the Slaughter Rule. When I played it went this way: if a team got ahead by 45 points, the game was over (but you had to play the entire first half). Without the Slaughter Rule, my teams would have lost most of our games by sixty or more points, and lord knows how many more pinkies I might have broken.
The six-man rules exist primarily to prevent one person from dominating a game. I’ve always thought about it this way: In eleven-man football, if nobody blocks, then the poor sucker with the ball is going to be chased by 11 bloodthirsty kids. In the same scenario in six-man, you’re only gonna get chased by six kids, at least one of whom will stand 4’11” and weigh 106 pounds.
There’s nothing unusual about a 6’7” 270lb kid in eleven-man varsity football. In six-man, a kid of that size is so rare that, assuming he has the teeniest bit of athleticism, he’s going to dominate like a Newfoundland at a Chihuahua party.
Six-man rules (aka regulations) exist for two reasons. One, to make sure that schools with small populations are allowed to field a team. Two, those rules exist to make it harder for one player to completely take over. Which is to say, the rules make it easier for the little guy to have a chance. It’s almost as if someone said, “Kids in rural America are entitled to play a version of football that suits their limited resources.”
Let’s now return to the Urban-Rural Divide. Because of high population-density, people in cities have to play by different rules from people in rural America. If you live in Denver, you will probably interact with hundreds of strangers every single day; in traffic, walking down the sidewalk, waiting in line at the grocery store.
There’s an implied rule that you must get along with every one of these strangers, even if it means that you have to pretend they don’t exist. For instance, don’t stare at people on the bus unless you want to make them very uncomfortable. Confusingly, there are other times when you absolutely must acknowledge the existence of strangers. If you’re driving down a busy street—or any street, frankly—use your turn signals. Otherwise, you could potentially throw the whole system into chaos, and maybe clobber a bicyclist, which is not only rude, but painful.
Country life has its own rules and regulations, some of which are the complete opposite of city rules. For example, in those rare situations when a stranger sits next to you in the bleachers of a six-man football game, you’re absolutely going to pay close attention. You may even find yourself staring. Because, compared to an urban setting, strangers are uncommon out here, and humans tend to be fascinated by uncommon things. Or, if you’re the type of person who religiously uses his turn signal, even on a dirt road in the middle of the night on your way home from Music Night at the Grassroots Community Center, there’s a good chance your passenger will call you a nut.
You can’t just pluck someone out of Joes, Colorado and expect them to thrive in the city. And you can’t take someone from Denver and expect them to thrive on the Great Plains. Because humans, by necessity, behave by different rules in different places, and those different ways of interaction lead to wildly divergent ideas of privacy, courtesy, and fellowship.
Fortunately, as long as we can acknowledge these differences and respect the appropriate societal rules (either formal or implied), we can all still find a way to enjoy the game.