I didn't lose my journalistic objectivity toward the end of my gonzo stint as the "paper lioness" of Chicago's professional women's football team, the Force.
I forgot that I was working on a story at all.
Many hours of practices, game-film sessions and telephone coaching were about to culminate in an April 5 public intra-squad scrimmage in which I would run 12 plays at quarterback before my friends, my family, and perhaps most important by now, my coach and the 50 women I was calling "teammates."
What was my first clue that my research for a magazine story had turned into something else?
Maybe it was in the last practice before the scrimmage, throwing yet another ball into the artificial turf and cracking up the women by screaming at the top of my lungs, "Motherfucker!" (Not that these ladies don't speak French. Starting QB Samantha Grisafe had already coached me on how to throw better slant routes: "Stop throwing like a pussy." Easy for her to say.)
Or maybe it was the frequent self-quizzes on the Lion Counter play: Counterintuitive was more like it. Was the line call red or black? On which side did the running back line up, and which way was she supposed to run? If it took me five seconds to answer these questions while lying dry-mouthed and sleepless in my bed, how long would it take in the swirling kaleidoscope of the game itself?
If George Plimpton was thinking about his book as he prepared to play in an exhibition game with the Detroit Lions, he's a more disciplined journalist than I am. Me, I was praying.
Dear Football God, please don't let me humiliate myself.
Actually, I didn't so much care if I was humiliated; I've always been willing to take a pratfall for a good laugh.
But I was feeling mighty protective of my inner seventh-grader, the boy who loved football more than life but who was too afraid of the big kids to go out for the football team, and who was yet too young to anticipate things called "regrets."
This scrimmage had become nothing short of that boy's chance to find out if he was worthy.
(He was worthy -- barely -- executing most plays correctly, moving the second-team offense down the field a bit and surprising everyone by zipping two slant passes for completions. As I mistily gaze at the Force helmet all the players signed at the happy party after the game, I choose not to focus on the interception I also threw, or the delay-of-game call, after which everyone in the stands overheard a heated dialogue: "That one's on me, coach." "Well who the fuck else would it be on?!")
None of the couple thousand other Independent Women's Football League players have to explain to this writer how it feels to realize a childhood football fantasy deferred, and none has to explain how unchanged is that kid within -- how full of anxiety, how still needy of affirmation, how excitable and still given to dreams of glory.
I only hope I'm able to adequately explain it, in ESPN the Magazine, to sports fans who ought to know.
They're offering their usual two-for-one deal: You pay $10, your inner child gets in for free.
Chicago writer David Murray blogs regularly at Writing Boots.