The weird thing about watching American football is that it is defined by the Crunch. That sound like a train hitting a fence, or when King Tubby went crazy on Johnny Clarke's best recordings. "Kerfuckingkrwoargghhhh" it goes and you can hear it for miles. Some poor fucking quarterback with a monster the size of Erkan Özeren hitting him at pace in the guts. But that's what happens.
At the Berlin Adler vs Kiel Baltic Hurricanes game last Saturday, I was lucky enough to have someone who could explain the tangibles to me. The plays too, but mostly all I understood was that noise. In a, what most would term boring, 7-14 loss for the Adler, I couldn't get it out of my head. Above the J. Geils Band, above "YMCA", Lulu and all the other awful noises that the DJ deemed incessantly necessary between plays, there was always that Crunch.
Josef next to me understood it. He'd been under it no less. He borrowed my programme to show his girlfriend the picture in the centerfold with a ”Thats the one“ look in his eye as he muttered in Czech. It was a picture of Adler's running back Oliver Schmeling, who had landed on Josef's knee last week, screwing it out of all proportion and knocking him out until the end of the season. He's a big guy is Josef, his hands as big as saucepans: they shake the stand when he bangs them in frustration.
”So are you any good at watching, then? It must be hard sitting there with your knee fucked and your mates out there,“ may not have been the most judicious icebreaker, but he didn't look like the kind of guy who would respond to a witty Haiku.
”No I can't watch it really, I get angry,“ he deadpans as I start to look around for another seat. There aren't any at all. This is supposed to be the press bit for god's sake. I bet Neville Cardus never had to put up with his press area being filled with partisan fans in American football shirts, banging their clappers and tooting their horns incessantly.
But their presence stuck me in the only available seat, next to Josef. He's from Prague and is studying ”some sports science shit“ basically as an excuse to play football. Not real football, mind.
”I Hate Soccer“ is a line I will remember for a long time, and mostly just because I simply didn't know what to say back. What can you say to a wounded 300 lb giant with a busted knee? But he was great, talking me through the game, through the plays and telling me about the players and life as an American football player. Sure, he wants to go to the States, who doesn't, but the way he said it it sounded like a dream already. He's happy here though, having won a European and a championship ring in Berlin, and is looking forward to winning more as soon as his knee is sorted.
Once more those saucepans come crashing down. ”Shit, it should be 14-0 to us. That fumble, wasn't a fumble you know!“ I didn't really, to my shame. I'm used to watching American football on the TV, where replays are presided over by the likes of Dan Marino and his bunch of trained whooping sealions - the presumption being that you are stupid and can't absorb information quickly. This is sometimes a helpful presumption.
Without Josef, I'd have had trouble keeping up. Regular Adler quarterback Kyle Callahan is injured and he patiently explains to me how massive this is. His first-half replacement Tobias Brüning is all rushing, a darting presence seemingly resolved to doing it all himself, but it doesn't help. The Hurricanes hold firm. His second-half replacement , Daniel Kiffner, does better, but there are too many mistakes and too little momentum in the end. A lovely take by Lars Samjeske (a “really nice, young guy“) brings it back to 7-14, but it's too late. Josef is still rueing the earlier bad decisions and I decide to stay out of his way. He's on the pitch with his mates, but looks gutted. I don't think it's this first home loss in two years affecting him, but the missing out and having to sit and watch. In this sport particularly, where each and every player is so reliant on the others, literally watching and covering their backs, I think it must hurt more than most not to be involved.