On Saturday, the North Philadelphia Aztecs, a Pop Warner youth football team, got to do something they hadn't done in 20 years. They played a home game on their own field in Hunting Park.
And what a field it is. Team Vick Field is a $1.4 million overhaul of a rundown field that now boasts an electronic scoreboard and artificial turf. Like everyone who gets a new carpet and wants to keep it clean, the adults in the house repeatedly told the visitors that no drinks, not even Gatorade, were allowed on the field.
Michael Vick, whose foundation donated $200,000 to the project, the Eagles brass, Fairmount Park Conservancy leaders, city officials and others turned out on Aug. 19 to dedicate the new field. On Saturday, it was the community's day to celebrate, and the festivities began with a media flag football game for charity.
NRG Residential Solutions, the game's sponsor, promised that $1,000 would be donated to the favorite charity of each media member who played. A check for $10,000 would be paid to the charity of the game's MVP.
That piece of the carrot never even crossed my mind.
So when I stepped up to the microphone to accept the glass football trophy and the oversized check for being MVP, I said what was in my heart: "This has to be the most improbable thing — ever."
It was true. I hadn't played flag football since I was in college 40 years ago. And when I showed up at the field on Saturday and looked around at the other players, I knew what my destiny would be when it came time to pick the teams. I was older, shorter and rounder than everyone else.
"I'm going to be picked last," I ruefully told my husband. "But it's okay because I was never picked last when I was a kid." With that, I held onto my dignity as my name was finally called.
I joined my team and played each down with heart. Most of the skills had faded with the years, but not the competitive fire. I caught four short passes and even snapped the flag off the opposing team's quarterback before he could throw the ball. A quarterback sack!
When the 20-minute game was over, and my team had won, I was so relieved to get off the field that I began to tear up. "There is no crying in football," my husband said, trying to be helpful and that was enough to settle me down.
As the coaches and referees conferred on the field to pick the MVP, I was sure one of the fleet-footed youngsters would be crowned. Or maybe one of older guys who had hauled in a long pass for a TD.
When my name was called, I got choked up for the second time that day, and put both hands over my heart in the universal symbol of gratitude. Only a short time ago, I had been chosen dead last.
But this is Philadelphia, everyone. Cue the music: The Theme from Rocky.
Thanks to some folks in Philly who care about whether kids in Hunting Park have a decent place to play football, little girls in El Paso, Texas, the hometown of one of my best friends, will have a chance to learn ballet from a talented director. I'm hoping the young ballerinas will be able to perform The Nutcracker this year without having to worry about borrowing costumes or scrambling for a stage.
Cue the music for another favorite song: What a Wonderful World.
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