Now, at last, came order and regiment, 22 men aligned for an NFL kickoff wearing warriors' armor and tight, shiny pants that Ribs insisted they had strategically stuffed with an extra wad of socks, an allegation I ignored in the growing certainty that they would finally see what I had avowed all weekend: that all the padding and plastic insured that NFLers could slam each other with an abandon no rugby thug nor Aussie rules ping-ponger could match. The crowd, announced at 73,811—blowfish washing up from the week-old oil spill in Sydney Harbor weren't nearly that bloated—sat hushed but respectfully attentive, poised to catch such scoreboard cues as GREAT RUN after a Terrell Davis 10-yard gain, and P.A. pointers such as: "A touchdown is scored when a man carrying the ball crosses the goal line. The crowd gets very excited."
But Ribs's gaze was fixed on the sofas wearing numbers in the 70s and 90s down in the trenches. "Hell, they'd never survive five minutes of a rugby game," he proclaimed. "They'd run 20 meters and fall on their faces! No wonder nobody stays in this game for more than two minutes. And who are those wankers with the orange sticks?"
"Those are the men carrying the first-down markers," I huffed.
"And where's that wanker who slammed us for being rude?"
I pointed out Shannon Sharpe, the Broncos' tight end, standing on the sidelines in his civvies with a strained ankle. Sharpe had inflamed Australia a few days earlier by declaring Aussies rude and the whole 17-hour flight for a game a sorry concept.
"You mean the blouse is sitting out because of a strained ankle?" yelped Ribs. "A regular toe-stubber, eh? Rude, he thinks we are? If he'd met me, he'd have wanted to go home 10 days before he got here."
They groaned about "Nancy boys" making fair catches or slinking out of bounds to avoid a wallop, the quarterbacks dropping to their fannies rather than taking what they had coming. I reached a decision: I wouldn't take this lying down. "There's nothing in either of your games," I lyricized, as the Chargers stormed to a 14-zip first-half lead, "as lovely as a long, arcing forward pass."
They choked on that. Then I caught Ribs leering at the San Diego cheerleaders, noted all the oooh-la-las their dance numbers were drawing around the stadium and claimed a clear-cut score for the NFL. "No doubt about it," conceded Ribs. "Our cheer girls are crap bananas. These birds have worked hard as s—to get all this mucky-muck together."
"Of course," added Nash, "we don't need cheer girls to entertain us because we don't have all these friggin' whistles and flags and TV timeouts. We have a game."
"True," sighed Ribs. "Nothing to do during all these bloody stops but perv."