Thursday, May 19, 2011

Saved by my $8 Nike shin guards... or my shins of steel

It was probably the shin guards to be honest. I am not completely sure how everything happened, or what my feelings are about the affair, but I can at least relay the facts.

Battle-Worn and Approved
I played an indoor soccer game on Tuesday night. While I wish I was partaking in the elegant endeavor of futsal, the truth is that I was playing the scrappy, hockey-style indoor that is more popular in our area of the world. This is where the soccer information seems somewhat relevant, so feels free to ignore the next paragraph if soccer talk sounds painfully uninteresting.

For Players and Fans of the Beautiful Game:

My team recovers the ball on the defensive end and sends me the ball just before midfield. I lead a teammate forward with a central pass, and we are on a 2v1 break. Even though there is no offside rule, I try to observe the rule so I do not develop bad habits for play in other settings. As a result, I am keeping a line with the one defender as I move down the left wing. My teammate plays a lovely through ball, and I am in on goal with a relatively easy shot in front of me.

For Everyone Else Again:

The ball is between me and the goalkeeper, but it is pretty obvious that I will get to it first, even at less than full speed. Still, the goalkeeper charges the ball hard. I poke the ball gently toward the far corner of the goal as I see the keeper airborne and approaching. I hear a loud bang, the sound of shin guards colliding, as I watch the ball nestle in the net.

When I turn around, I see the goalkeeper on the ground, yelling profanities and writhing in pain. The referee and players from both teams start gathering around him. From his apparent pain level, I worry that the sound I heard was more than just the kiss of shin pads.

Just for clarity's sake, had he not been injured and the goal not scored, a foul would have been called against him and he likely would have been ejected from the game for making such a dangerous tackle. The defender who had a side view of the event said the goalie took a big swing as he slid in, and he thought, as did most of the players on the field, that I had been badly injured.

Despite the injury and the inevitable ambulance ride everyone knew was coming, the jokes started flying. Some of the keeper's teammates made fun of his "weakness," to which the keeper rightly replied with strings of profanities. One of my well-built teammates walked up behind me, stood at my side, looked down at my leg and asked, "How did that twig not break?" Even the referee found humor in the moment, asking if we thought we could play around the immobile man on the ground. For a few of us, though, the gravity of the moment outweighed our desires to laugh.

I would find later that I had a small cut under my shin guard, an injury so insignificant that I would never have noticed it if my teammates had not pleaded with me to check. In unfortunate contrast, the goalkeeper broke both his tibia and fibula.

How did such a freak event occur? We hit one another at nearly the exact same spot. Common knowledge, like my large teammate, says that the bulky goalkeeper should have shattered my skinny limb. Maybe Nike has secretly attained absolute mastery of shin guard technology. Maybe there was a significant discrepancy in our bone densities. Maybe a slight difference in collision angles produced far-reaching effects. Whatever the reason, the results were dreadful. My sincerest sympathy goes out to the injured keeper and his family.

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