Political Scientist on the Gridiron

April 20, 2017

Despite what you may conjure from the headline of this story, it is not about the politics of football—the power players and the trades, the Superbowl and DeflateGate, severe head injuries or insights into quarterbacks in panty hose. Allen Lynch, professor in the Department of Political Science at UVA, is a place kicker for the Virginia Silverbacks, a semipro team in the Atlantic Football League, filled with (mostly) 25-30 year-olds who love playing football and never wanted to give it up after high school or college. It’s a beautiful sight.

For Professor Allen it’s about the resumption of kicking for a team. He played for two years in high school and four years at Stony Brook (State University of New York, Long Island)—he was there during the early years of football at Stony Brook, a club team, though in his first season there in ’73, the team fell apart after the 4th game, having lost their initial game 69-6 to Albany State. The coach said he’d never coach again.

Despite that shattering experience, something inspired the club to give it another shot in 1974. By 1975, the team was playing at the National Championship (against Westchester Community College)—Stony Brook showed vast improvement in skill, but still scored a loss. He notes they played on astroturf, perhaps that was the cause. Or perhaps because WCC had 90 great players to Stony Brook’s 40, many playing offense and defense, tongues hanging out.

I try to entice him into the topic of sports vs. academics, but he doesn’t bite. Dr. Lynch did indicate THAT during his college game, once a month he’d have to leave practice early and attend a student government meeting, still in uniform, to make sure they didn’t cut the team’s $10,000 budget.

“At that time there were no NCAA level sports at Stony Brook and it reflected the true spirit of amatuerism. You base a school on academics—and if you want to play sports, you form a club. Now they probably have a $1,000,000 budget and are in the NCAA. We created a monster.” In Lynch’s time the team would mow the grass, erect goalposts, fence the field, and hire the coach."

Following graduation Professor Lynch was getting ready for try-outs for the Canadian Football League, but unfortunately got a full scholarship to graduate school at Columbia. He says it was a good thing because he was a straight-toe kicker and the future wasn’t in straight-toe kicking. Despite being sidetracked into political science he kept kicking — a bag of footballs at a high school field on Saturday mornings. Most modern kickers approach the ball soccer style, but he still uses a square toe shoe. He laments that there are no replacements for that shoe and jokes about buying up all the square toe shoes on eBay—an imagined market of square toe shoe futures.

His Silverbacks are mainly from Charlottesville and Albemarle county, with a few from Culpeper, Richmond, and Louisa. All were high school players, some were UVA players, some played arena football. Everyone has a day job, a family, and still loves football. Beyond the individual, it is a network of local guys led by coach and owner, Jamie Davis, who sometimes suits up to play QB. Davis played several seasons in NFL Europe, based in Switzerland.

I try to draw connections where there are, apparently, none:
Q: What does this do to your teaching, to your research—an improvement?
A: It does nothing, I was already kicking before I knew about the team.

Q: Are you a more aggressive player as an academic?
A: No, you’ll see I stay pretty close to mid-field. If the opposition does break through, I stay far enough away to bluff him to the sidelines.

Q: Does it make you happier playing with a team?
A: No question about it. Team Spirit! Common Enterprise. Football is emotional, violent; it’s all for one—or everyone is going to fall down.

Q: As I was taking pictures on the sideline I was afraid of catching an elbow. Would they resent me being that close?
A: The Team gets totally psyched. If they hit you it would be nothing personal, they’re just hyped up.

Q: What’s it like playing on this team?
A: I feel more accepted here. My earlier teams, they didn’t respect the kicker as much.

He claims there’s really not a lot of difference between his behavior before he joined the team and after, but “My wife and mother see a difference, they say I’m happier.”

There were so many poor choices for this story’s headline. Some I’ve considered: Kicks are for KidsPlay Ball!Lynch Kick Ass!, but it’s ultimately about a man having fun on Saturday mornings. Dr. Lynch says “it’s incongruous, it’s a scream.”

“The extra point really captures the form — almost perfect.”

Joe Namath on Beautymist Pantyhose.

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