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Though Varnedoe seemed to recognize the value of a systematic approach to work, one requiring close examination and long hours, he also knew that real opportunity often came knocking in the random moment. Whether it be Richard Serra’s impulse to splatter hot metal on his studio floor, or William Web Ellis’s zany urge to tear ass across a soccer field, ball in hand, Kirk knew that after all was said and done, a fine disregard for the rules, and taking advantage of the unexpected, was the key to innovation. He chronicled this theory in his book (funded as a result of his 1984 MacArthur Foundation award) and he encouraged this practice in life, even on Metrozoid Field.

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part VI

“Okay, we’re going to learn a play,” he said the next Friday at Metrozoid practice. The boys were standing on Metrozoid Field in their Metrozoid shirts in a semicircle around him. He showed them the play he had in mind, tracing it in the dirt with a stick: The quarterback takes the ball from the center and laterals to the halfback, who looks for one of three downfield receivers, who go in overlapping paths down the right sideline – one long, one medium, one short. The boys clapped hands and ran to the center of the field, terrier-quick and terrier-eager.

“No, no. Don’t run. Just walk through it the first few times.”

The boys then ostentatiously walked through the play, clowning around a bit, as though in slow motion. He laughed at that. But he had them do it anyway, five or six times, at a walk.

“Now let’s just amble through it, same thing,” The play took on a courtly quality, like a seventeenth-century dance. The boys did it at that pace, again and again: Hike and pitch and look and throw.

“Now let’s just run easy.” The boys trotted through their pattern, and Garrett, the chosen quarterback, kept overthrowing the ball. Gently but firmly, Kirk changed the running back with the quarterback – Ken for Garrett, so that Garrett had the honor of being official quarterback but wouldn’t have to throw – and then had them trot through it again. Ken threw hard, and the ball was caught.

After twenty minutes, Kirk clapped his hands. “Full speed. Everybody run.” The boys got in their stances, and took off – really zoomed, The ball came nervously back, the quarterback tossed it to the halfback, he turned and threw it to the short receiver.

“Great!” At top eight-year-old speed, the ball had been thrown for a completion. The Metrozoids had mastered a play.

“Now let’s do it again,” Kirk said. I heard him whisper to Matthew, the short receiver, as he lined up, “Fall down!” They started the play, Garrett to Ken. Matthew fell down. Ken’s eyes showed a moment of panic, but then he looked up and saw the next boy, the middle receiver, Luke, waiting right in line, and he threw there. Complete.

“Nice read,” Kirk said, clapping his hands. “Nice read, nice throw, nice catch. Well-executed play.”

The boys beamed at one another.

“You break it down, and then you build it back up,” Kirk said as they met at the center of the field to do the pile of hands. “The hardest play you learn is just steps put together.”

(Part VII tomorrow)

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