“Gratuitous Super Bowl Poem” by Vincent Toro

Vincent Toro


for Mike Webster, 1952-2002

Were math still a function
he could execute, he might
round it up to twenty five
thousand times that he dug
his cleats into the dirt
at the line of scrimmage.

He might recall that each
huddle was followed by two
snaps: the first as his wrists
flicked the pigskin through
his oak-like ankles, followed
half a second later by the other

snap when his helmet cudgeled
his pate. Less than a decade
after his retirement he could hold
no thought much longer than most
plays last from hike to down.
His frontal region abraded, scar

tissue piled up behind his ever-
widening glabella like an offensive
line working against the clock.
Buried beneath the lesions near
his parietal bone, hidden inside
the calcified creases of his motor

cortex gleams reflections
of the four rings he reaped
by mistaking his mug for ram’s
horns, his sons’ voices chipped
off and collected in muddy
pockets between eroding

sutures. Those last years of life
his sentences fell like fumbled
passes. Without any savings
or medical insurance he had
to set his own rotten teeth
into his gums with crazy glue,

used electrical tape to hold
together two ramshackle
femurs. Fans on the street
might brush by him, nudging
him to share a locker
room fable, until he halted

them by pleading for someone
to help him figure out where
he lived. Even shaving
and brewing coffee became
tasks as impenetrable
as his shoulders once were

whenever he aimed them
like howitzers toward the end
zone. Swathed in a jersey
that swayed him to believe
he was steel, he left the field
as a hobbling mausoleum

decimated from two hundred
Sundays spent sacrificing
his skull to the gridiron
for a job that paid him above
the going market rate
to delete himself.

Poets Respond
February 1, 2015

[download audio]


Vincent Toro: “I wrote this poem in response to the omnipresent advertising campaign for the Super Bowl that happens every year around this time, having just seen ‘The League of Denial,’ a documentary concerning the NFL’s multi-million dollar effort to suppress facts about the number of players and former players who have died as a result of concussions and other football-related injuries, either by having acquired the early onset of diseases such as dementia, as in the case of Mike Webster, or as a result of players having taken their own life because they can no longer bear the suffering their illnesses has caused them, as in the case of Junior Seau and countless others. I find it troubling to see so much collective anticipation for the event in light of the lawsuits players have filed against the NFL and the league’s effort to hush the diagnoses of numerous doctors. The poem is an attempt to shed light on the negative impact that playing football professionally has caused for many young men by spotlighting the story of one particular player, one considered a legend in the sport.” (website)

Note: This poem has been published exclusively online as part of a new project in which poets respond to current events. A poem written within the last week about an event that occurred within the last week will appear every Sunday at Rattle.com. Our only criterion for selection is the quality of the poem, not its editorial position; any opinions expressed are solely those of the poet and do not necessarily reflect those of Rattle’s editors. To read poems from past weeks, visit the Poets Respond page. Interact on our Facebook group. To have a poem considered for next week’s posting, submit it here before midnight Friday PST. 

Rattle Logo