27 Desember 2010

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RAMSEY: Air Force seniors will miss the violent fun

SHREVEPORT, La. – As Air Force defensive end Rick Ricketts prepared for his final season of football, he believed he was ready for his long goodbye.
Monday, Ricketts will put on his helmet, shoulder pads and No. 90 jersey for the final time.
For a college football player, a last game has a heightened sense of finality.
A college basketball player can still look forward to highly competitive games in his future. Properly intense basketball city leagues  thrive all over the United States.
Not many opportunities beckon for a football player who enjoys the freedom and violence of playing his game in full regalia. When Ricketts and his fellow Air Force seniors exit the field Monday, they will be leaving their game behind.
Ricketts smiled as he considered what he will miss most about football. It was a slightly sinister smile.
“Oh,” he said, “you’re allowed to hit people without going to jail.”
For years, Ricketts has found a safe release for his rage. When he grew frustrated by the rules at the academy, he found peace on the football field. This was his place of refuge.
And he knows his safe, though violent, retreat will soon be gone.
“I’ll miss being able to take it out on the football field,” he said. “I’ll have to find that release somewhere else.”
So will Jared Tew, the Falcons fullback. He remembers growing up in Utah, watching his older brother play in pads while waiting for the day he could enter this realm where it was OK, even encouraged, to run into other players at full speed.
Last week, Tew was smiling on the practice field as he considered his rapid recovery from a broken right leg. On Oct. 16, he reclined on a field in San Diego, his leg throbbing with pain, and wondered if he had played his final game.
It looks as if he’s been given a reprieve. Tew has run with speed and elusiveness in practice and is expected to play against Georgia Tech.
But it’s only a one-game reprieve.
“It makes me terribly sad,” Tew said. “Been playing since I was 8 years old. It’s been a big part of my life.”
He remembers putting on his pads before games and battling against his brother on the family trampoline. He laughed as he recalled “two little tough guys” who couldn’t wait to play some football.
“I’ve always been excited about football,” Tew said. “When those pads are on, you change into a different person. You try to become a little meaner. I don’t know, something just comes over you when you have pads on. You want to go hit something.”
Here’s the bad news for Ricketts and Tew and Kevin Fogler and all the other Air Force seniors. For a dozen or more years, they’ve been enjoying a game where the rules that govern normal life are tossed away, a game that celebrates legalized violence, a game that has given them enormous pleasure.