Football: A Memoir
by Bernard Mendillo
published by Bernard Mendillo, 2011
ebook ISBN: 978-1-61397-681-4
Most of us have something we look forward to when the work week is done. Some hobby that captures our attention, takes us out of the everyday grind and provides entertainment and activity and just plain fun. For Bernie Mendillo, that was football.
Some sports fans are watchers. They appreciate the game from afar, rooting for their teams, of course, but still somewhat removed from the hard hits, the cold weather and the field dynamics. While Bernie and family were big fans, right there in front of the TV for the big games of their football heroes, they weren't just couch potatoes. The need to play was visceral.
They were so into football that they created their own league,the CHFL - Cheming Hill Football League, where they played year after year, trying as best they could (although from time to time, depending on who was available and the weather, it was a bit more of a 'jungle ball' experience) to emulate the greats in their favorite team, the New York Giants. Touch football and the NFL vary greatly in their rules, pay scales, and fan base, but the piece the CHFL kept pace with was the value of "heart" as in "playing your heart out" every game.
The CHFL played every Sunday, for 20 years, rain or shine, with the mantra "we plays in all weathers" where "all weathers" included ice, snow, thunderstorms; you name it, they played in it. A Stoughton MA newspaper dubbed them "The Boys of Winter" but by and large, they labored on in anonymity, playing the game they loved from 10-12 then going home to watch their team of choice.
If you're a football fan, have played in high school or college, or just follow the game closely (understand the rules, terminology, etc.) you will appreciate this book. If you're a student of the game, you'll especially appreciate the sections where Mendillo plays sports announcer (calling the game as it would have been done on TV) for games back as far back as 1958, letting the reader "see" the games as they unfolded. If you're someone, or know someone, with a "man cave" full of football memorabilia, tapes from previous games, stubs from games you traveled to see, then you will be familiar with some of this brand of fandom. If you play touch football all the time, it will be just like home.
Those who don't like football are likely to get lost in the jargon a bit, but still respond to the sense of teamwork and community, and, through Mendillo's obsession, understand a bit more about why some folks are so hooked on football.
Most importantly, this book is a kind of reverse "coming of age" story. After 20 years of playing, Mendillo sees that the body is no longer able to run as fast, jump as high, or change directions so quickly anymore. "Football" is the documentation of his recognition that he's no longer able to play the game he loves without hurting his team, and at it's core, he is explaining the reasons why it's so stunningly difficult to step away.
His life in football is rich in details, melding the mundane every week activities on back lots and playgrounds with the great plays by professionals in front of cheering crowds, the game history, the faithful fan of the Giants syndrome, and, in fact, everything football rolled into one decision he really hates to have to make. It's a bit of a eulogy to the death of Mendillo's participation, the inexorable passage of time that closes the gate to the football field, forcing Mendillo to go on with his life after having lost a loved one.
This particular rite of passage is one many baby boomers are experiencing, so there will be much sympathizing with the feelings by readers, but one caveat needs to be added. If you are a football fan of anyone other than the Giants, be ready to substitute your favorite team's name in a number of places, or you'll be grinding your teeth as the many, many, references to the wonderful Giants recur.. It's how he feels, and that's fine -- it's his life he's documenting, after all.
I think Mendillo does an excellent job putting us into the action, whether it's describing plays back from the earlier days of the game, describing the joys and pains of playing in the snow, or presenting the cast of characters that came and went in the CHFL, we, the readers, can see it in the mind's eye, and that's good writing. In addition to penning a number of memoirs, Mendillo is also a novelist, and a playwright, with at least 14 plays to his credit. He's on Facebook (Bernard Mendillo) and at www.mendillo.net