Dustin Smith has willed his body into some semblance of football shape one last time.
At least that’s what he’s telling his wife, Jamie, who prefers that Smith act his age and stop with this chasing-quarterbacks nonsense as a defensive end that leaves him creaking and groaning.
Football, Jamie Smith will argue, is a young man’s game. And by any measure, her husband is more old than young. He’s 36 and expects to feel 56 after today’s charity football game at Sacramento State between Sacramento Law Enforcement “Guns” and Fire Department “Hoses” – otherwise known as the 40th Pig Bowl.
“The good news,” Dustin Smith said Friday before the Guns’ final practice, “is I’ll have my chiropractor emergency number with me. And I’ll have a massage therapist number, too. My body will feel it.”
So why do it? Smith, the Sacramento Police Department union president, said players can leave football, but the game often never leaves them. At 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, Smith said he has at least four more quarters in him. His mind and body say yes. His wife says no. Smith has played in this game since 2003.
“The fact that a lot of money has been raised for local charities over a 40-year period means quite a bit to us, to give back,” Smith said. “And it’s a great chance to relive our glory days. It’s so much fun. Football is a different kind of conditioning. It’s one thing to exercise and work out in this profession, but when it comes to getting a body prepared for full-speed hits into humans, that’s a totally different (regimen).”
Smith’s view is shared by both teams. Football players’ time in the game is fleeting, and everyone in uniform today craves another moment in the sun, or in the end zone. Smith’s glory moment came in 1994, when he helped Bear River High School to a 13-0 season as a two-way lineman. He played one season at Sacramento State, then got on with real life in law enforcement.
“Football is the one sport where you typically lose the ability or opportunity to play after high school or college,” said Smith, a Guns captain. “You can continue to play softball, basketball and other sports as an adult, but there’s no rec league for tackle football, a safe way. So we do this. And I don’t mind lowering my shoulder in a game like this.”
Smith is surrounded in practice by younger men, some in their 20s, bouncing with energy. There are old-timers in the trenches, too, such as Kevin Feil, a 40-year old center who played at Sacramento High and American River College. He’s a Guns captain because of seniority, literally, and effort, coach Mike Morris said.
Guns tight end T.J. Price is 34. He played at Foothill High and Sacramento City College. Charles Thorntona is a 33-year-old linebacker who played at Laguna Creek and Sac State.
And there’s Greg Coauette, still active in shoulder pads at 49. He’s a free safety with no limits. He worked for years in SWAT for the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department. He’s climbed fences, barreled through doors, raced down alleys. At USC a generation ago, Coauette made tackles in the Rose Bowl. He later played for the Sacramento Surge and Sacramento Gold Miners.
Coauette once said of the similarities of football and law enforcement: “I’m still waiting for the whistle to blow to end the play when I have a guy down on the ground.”
“You look at Coauette, and you’d never tell how hold he is with the amount of intensity he brings to a practice and the games,” said Tod Bevins, the Guns’ quarterback and a relative pup at 32.
Bevins, a Sac High graduate, works in the SWAT division for the Sac Police. He can speak of the rigors of criminal pursuit and dangerous situations.
“In a sense, football is a lot like SWAT because we train as a team, we’re around the same people, and we need each other,” Bevins said. “That’s what drew me to this game. We always draw on those football experiences.”
Bevins said he will play today as if this is the Super Bowl, knowing his counterpart will do the same. Hoses quarterback Eric Garside, 33, played at Placer High and has had his greatest football moments in recent years with two MVP efforts in this charity game.
And Smith knows of Garside. He looks forward to chasing him down to say hello.