I do not know the names of my Sportsmen of the Year. They're six boys, maybe nine or 10 years old, who were playing three-on-three tackle football on a schoolyard field on a ruddy afternoon in Philadelphia in late October. There were no adults around. I stopped the car to watch for a while, because the sight was so unusual. These days, kids mostly play sports with chaperones watching, and games die a little death every time that happens. The kids were using book bags to mark the end zones, and two of them were wearing Eagles jerseys.
In Philadelphia, in the city and in the suburbs, the 12-and-under crowd is totally immersed in the local football team. It's a beautiful thing. It's not about the betting line and it's not about the beer. It's all about the air game, Donovan hitting T.O. In the three-on-three game I watched, the quarterback had two receivers and five Mississippis to get a pass off. One kid, when he scored, marked the touchdown the way Joe Paterno prefers, with a knee to the ground and the ball right next to it, firmly under a palm. The chin down. The other kids did the expected, the look-at-me-now thing. That was fine, too.
Maybe you're a sportsman of the year yourself. Maybe you're an old fat guy playing fullcourt playground basketball on a Sunday morning. A girl on a longboard in a gray winter wave, nobody else around. Some duffer who holes all his little putts, or not. Just playing for the joy of the thing. I'm envious.
I'm hoping the boys played through the depressing autumn dusk light, instead of checking their e-mail or playing PlayStation football or doing their homework. PlayStation football is not football. Spend too much time in front of a computer screen and you can forget that. Nothing can be better than being outside, age 10 again, dirt in your nails and grass stains on your pants, your homework waiting for you in your knapsack, not worried about a damn thing.