Mud Bowl difficulties aren't limited to running. A mud-covered football is about as easy to grasp as a greased pole. At times the ball squirts in and out of so many players' hands that the game becomes something of a Three Stooges act. And though Mud Bowl teams often begin a game wearing brightly colored uniforms, within minutes of flopping and gyrating in the bog, they are coated head to toe in mud. They become creatures from the brown lagoon. Rookie Mud Bowl quarterbacks are often flummoxed when attempting to pass the ball: All players on the field look exactly alike.
Mud football has its hazards. Mud settles everywhere—"You dig gunk out of your ears for weeks," said Sheldon—and everywhere, unfortunately, includes the eyes. When mud gets in players' eyes, their reaction is natural: They rub them. With muddy hands. Which leads to more rubbing. The cycle is cruel, and sideline eyewash volunteers, armed with bottles of saline solution and eyedrops, do a brisk business. Another potential danger is reflected in a longstanding Mud Bowl tenet: When you fall in the mud, don't forget to close your mouth.
The Mud Bowl's most bitter rivalry is between the Mass Muddas and the Hogs. "We're friends in the barroom," said Sheldon, "but on the field their name is mud—literally." Entering the 1994 Mud Bowl, the two teams had played each other for the championship 10 of the previous 12 years, with the Muddas winning six times. And in the '94 bowl things remained true to form. In Saturday's semifinal games the Muddas brownwashed the Mudsharks 12-0, and the Hogs (on the strength of two TDs by the Hog of Steel) swamped the Rats 33-7.
This set up the expected Sunday showdown. A crowd of about 2,000 witnessed the Muddas dance to Born in the M.U.D. (a Mud Bowl adaptation of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A.) as a pregame warmup. Sheldon served as the Hogs' official dirtier; as each Hog was introduced, Sheldon soiled the player's uniform with a handful of mud. In the stands the Hog of Steel's father, George Sheldon, 71, looked on bemusedly. "I've watched my son play in the Mud Bowl for 10 years, and each time I'm sure it'll be his last," George said. "Gary's too old to be out there. But I guess it's just not in him to stand on the sidelines like a normal adult and watch the kids play."
In the championship, though, it was a kid on the Muddas—23-year-old Adam Gillan—who stole the spotlight from the Hog of Steel. Gillan caught three touchdown passes while Sheldon was held scoreless, and the Muddas disappointed the hometown crowd by trouncing the Hogs 24-7 for their second title in a row.
After the presentation of the Mud Bowl trophy, all the players retreated to Hog Coliseum's makeshift locker room for desperately needed showers. All, that is, except Sheldon. He seemed perfectly content to remain coated in mud. Cleanliness, after all, connotes maturity, sanity, normality—ideals antithetical to the Mud Bowl. And the Hog of Steel was in no rush to return to those. So instead of showering he wandered around the stadium, leaving a trail of dirty footprints while talking with whoever would listen about how the Hogs would win the next Mud Bowl.