- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"You mean we come all this way just to see a hole in the ground?"
They got back in the car, left the Grand Canyon and went directly to the arena.
Twenty-five in jam time," said Ken Kunzelman at the mike. "That's Bomber Jammer Francine Cochu, All Star Jammer Lydia Clay moving onto the rear of the pack. Calvello back to block for the All Stars, Joan Weston for the Bombers. Cochu moving in." Francine's husband, Larry Smith, watches closely, but it's nothing personal. Larry watches the action very closely all the time. He wants to be a coach someday. Sometimes when Francine goes down in a heap but something more significant is going on, Larry doesn't watch her at all, much less show concern. The other men hardly ever glance at the women's play. Calvello shoulder-blocks Francine, then knee-blocks her. Most every kind of block is legal in the Derby, and all unintentional infractions require delicate, judicial appraisal to distinguish them from legitimate action. Francine is knocked off balance and tries to stay upright on one leg. It is a losing battle, but she bounces up again. Joanie comes back and bangs Lydia Clay. Lydia stays up and looks for assistance from Calvello. Time is running out. Francine struggles to move back into scoring position, as Joanie hits Lydia again and sends her skittering solidly into the rail to great applause. Calvello goes back and belts little Francine one more time and she starts to go down again. "Five, four, three, two, one...." The buzzer, just as Francine hits the floor. There is no score on the play for either team.
Francine goes off and sits down, and Maureen O'Brien replaces her. Jammers alternate, like hockey lines. Francine sags and begins to cry softly into an orange Bomber towel. Larry pays no attention. At last, still sniffling, Francine lifts up her head and watches.
This time, as the jam again ends without a score, Calvello sneaks up and bops Joanie from behind after the buzzer. Joanie staggers, recovers and takes off after Calvello, who retreats, cowering. The fans go wild. Lots of them like this better than the skating. Look at Joanie just show her!
There are not enough real fights growing naturally out of the action, so when things drag Calvello invariably gets a little skirmish going between jams. It is transparent hokum, but for a large segment of the audience the phony theatrics are more entertaining than the sport. The put-on actually consumes only a small portion of the play time and seldom intrudes on the bona fide action itself, but as long as it exists at all, it manages to demean the Derby's whole image.
There is much more violence, real and contrived, than what passes for comedy, however, for it is quite true that this appeals most to the fans. "Fans at any sport, I don't care what it is, they want to see blood," Calvello says. "They want to see us broken up and my body carried out. They want to see that. Oh, we've had some vicious skaters, too. There are still some around, people so mean you'd hang 'em by a good rope, they'd still complain. But they're rare. I could never hurt anyone deliberately."
"Sure I have a fear of getting hurt," Joanie Weston says, her soft brown eyes turning sharp. "All I want out of Roller Derby is to make good money, get out of it in one piece, and years from now, when I say I was in the Roller Derby, I want people still to know what it is. I want that."
So they are all, as Larry Smith says, schizophrenic, like the game itself, torn between the oldtime buffoonery and the display of speed and muscle that marks real sport. The Derby can become so violent that there are unwritten laws about what should not be tolerated. The experienced know, for instance, how easy it is to trip an opponent, undetected, and knock him flat out. A practiced hip can be more lethal than the more overt forearm smash. The girls know how to use an elbow to force the zipper of an opponent's blouse down hard, digging it into her breasts. A simple poke to the bosom or a hair-pulling is more mundane, but it is also a rare form of retaliation.