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For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Computer Football

This is complicated: While at Rapline, I answered a call from a young lady who complained bitterly about her boyfriend, a computer geek who treated her like dirt. We spoke three nights in a row and as chance would screw it, I sat next to her in the computer center later the third night. I recognized her voice and name and before I could escape, she recognized my voice and broke through the veil of secrecy that should separate Rapline from the world.

Her boyfriend, Steve, was the quintessential nerd: pencil-neck, glasses, mussed-up hair and the social skills of an aardvark. A lot like me, actually. The computer center was his living room and this was back in the days of mainframes, green-tinted monitors, BASIC, FORTRAN, COBOL and line-by-line debugging of programs with under a hundred lines.

Mae, Steve’s tolerant victim, sort of let it slip that “Ben” was, well, interesting. Steve, with some inane and ill-suited jealousy, wanted to make something of it. But he couldn’t fight his way into a paper bag, so he was not about to physically challenge me, even if I did match him as a welterweight. He let it come out that nobody, n-o-b-o-d-y, could beat him at Computer Football.

Now Steve was a heavyweight in the computer division and I was barely a flyweight, but that wasn’t going to stop me from taking on the feeb. Not for Mae, who was not only unattractive, she was snotty. (Steve was lucky to have her.) It was because the challenge was flung at me by someone who couldn’t sniff my jock when it comes to sports.

Steve sat in a corner of the 24-terminal center; I sat in the middle of the right-hand wall. Maybe it was my imagination, but the scattered few were behaving like a showdown was happening at the OKilobyte Corral. The game came up, all text. Steve “won” the toss and elected to receive.

Nine plays later, he had scored a touchdown. I received and two plays later, he intercepted, then scored on the next play. I was down 14-0 and there was about 6 minutes left in the first quarter. I received, drove downfield and with a second-and-goal, Steve intercepted the screen pass and scored again. It was now 21-zip and I was about to punch my way through the monitor.

Steve, great guy that he was, was yakking it up, reiterating that he was simply unbeatable at the “real” kind of football, the mental game that separated the men from the boys. I wanted to separate his manhood from any future of spawning boys…or girls. Mae, who had been sitting at the far end of the room and had told me she would love for me to beat Steve badly, had now moved and was sitting three seats away from Steve. Bitch.

The second quarter started and I was able to manage a field goal, but Steve matched it: 24-3. I drove to the 4 and on third-and-2, I ran a roll-out pass play and to my utter astonishment, the pass was intercepted and run back for a touchdown. 31-3, 44 seconds left in the first half and Steve was cackling softly, his arm around Mae. Bitch. And so was Mae.

At that moment, Bill, a silent observer of the proceedings, said “You’re playing football. This is computer football.” I nodded, my anger freezing into a cold spike aimed directly at Steve.

The return was to my 34, and knowing that Steve expected a deep pass, I ran a sweep. Then another, a sideline pass and then a slant and I scored with 4 seconds to go. 31-10. The second half started with me receiving and again I mixed plays nearly at random and scored again: 31-17. I kicked onside, recovered and scored in five plays: 31-24. The cackling had long been silenced and Steve’s keyboard was getting abused. I kicked off and after giving up good yardage, intercepted and scored in four plays. The game was tied, the scattered denizens of computerland had gathered around me and Mae had been shoved aside as Steve cursed a blue streak. Nasty temper in that boy.

He managed a field goal to go ahead 34-31, but as the fourth quarter started, I nailed him again and took the lead 38-34. For several minutes I was the distinct center of geek worship…and then the computer crashed. Steve immediately left the center as some über-geek in charge came rushing in to ask what had happened. I didn’t know, but everyone else seemed to.

Mae gathered her books and walked out without a word.

A couple of weeks later, I entered the computer center and Steve was thrashing another geek on the virtual football field. He cackled that he was invincible, and after a few minutes, he turned and saw me. His words died out and a dry chuckle from somewhere preceded a “Yeah, but you can’t beat him without crashing the store.” Steve said something crude and left.

It was the shallowest of victories. But it sure as hell beat the other option.


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