Every player in the annual Mudbowl tournament understands that serious injuries are possible, yet very few players actually care. Last Sunday, I experienced this negligent attitude first hand.
Mudbowl’s storied traditions of Greek competition, no-rule, no-pad football and injury have dazzled the University of Michigan for more than 70 years. This year, I decided to experience these traditions from the field and no longer from the sideline.
With only a minute or two left on the game clock, my team was on its way to a tremendous victory in our first tournament game. Despite our lead, there is a no-mercy rule in Mudbowl; you play as hard as you can until the last whistle blows. In this spirit, I desperately blocked an opponent for my quarterback, who was tearing down the field behind me. But this guy didn’t go down as easily as I had anticipated. In retrospect, I should have immediately let go — but that isn’t the nature of the game.
Close your eyes and imagine the sound of shelled peanuts snapping under the weight of a person’s foot. Now imagine that same sound coming from bones in your body. I almost wish I had been knocked out and left (at least) temporarily oblivious to the results of this horrific sound. I wasn’t so lucky.
After I hit the ground, I looked down at the source of pain and saw something that resembled my foot — except it was bent outwards. My hope that someone had left some peanuts on the field wasn’t true.
But what struck me was not pain, nor was it the sick, pale faces of my friends surrounding me; it was my absolute lack of regret.
Not once did I question my decision to play, nor did I harbor any resentment toward my opponent. I wanted to be part of one of Greek Life’s most famed traditions. And in that, I’m proud to say, I succeeded.
Some of you might be thinking, “What a dumbass! Is he serious?” Yes, I’m dead serious, but there is no doubt that many friends and family of Mudbowl players strongly criticize their participation in the tournament. For them, the risks (injury) are overwhelmingly clear, but the rewards (pride) are not. Is winning the tournament, or even winning just one game, worth a dangerous injury? How do the players, coaches and Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Mudbowl’s host, justify this insanity?
I’ll tell you. It is an incredible honor to play in Mudbowl. For more than 70 years, the Mudbowl tournament has been an iconic Michigan Greek event, and since freshman year I longed to be a part of my fraternity’s team. I didn’t initially try out for the same reasons that most of the Greek community abstains from Mudbowl: pre-existing and potential injuries, as well as a significant time commitment. But after many months of thought, I determined that, for me, these reasons were mediocre deterrents, even though they are both justified and important.
Sportsmanship and camaraderie are integral to the honor of Mudbowl. When I returned from the hospital Sunday night, I opened an e-mail from two of the members of the opposing team, one of whom was John, the player I had (attempted to) block before I obliterated my ankle. These gentlemen wanted to stop by the hospital, and they offered their unconditional support. I was completely blown away. I didn’t know such compassion existed in Mudbowl.
Finally, camaraderie in Mudbowl transcends any traditional understanding of teamwork. Brothers and sisters standing beside you cradle your health and future in their hands. Even one missed block could lead to a concussion. This creates a unique sense of trust. Not only do players and friends depend on each other for victory (or defeat), they also depend on each other for safety.
Winning a Mudbowl game elevates you to an unparalleled euphoria. This is why young men and women continue to play. This is why they are willing to sacrifice their time and their bodies. And this is why Mudbowl means so much to the Greek community.
Though my short Mudbowl career will likely end with a plate and screws in my ankle, I guarantee that my injury and the injuries of the countless other Mudbowl players I saw in the emergency room will positively strengthen our teams and fraternities. On a Mudbowl team, all individuals disappear. What remains is a complete, single unit with fiery dedication and an unmatched desire to win. And this tradition will never change.
But, just in case, it may be prudent to have an on site emergency medical team at SAE tomorrow.
Ari Parritz can be reached at email@example.com.