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Dirty Like It Ought to Be

By Calvin Trillin

(TIME, March 18) -- The crucial difference between Ultimate Fighting, the bareknuckle battles on pay-per-view TV that some lawmakers want to ban, and a game we played in grade school called Dirty Soccer is that Ultimate Fighting specifically prohibits biting and eye gouging.

I'm not trying to imply that a contest in which some brute is permitted to pound his opponent into submission by nearly any means at his disposal--a knee to the groin, a stomp on the nose--is, when all is said and done, slightly wimpish. I certainly mean no disrespect to those who participate in Ultimate Fighting and may list their hobbies as "beating smart alecks to a pulp."

I'm simply reporting historical fact: nothing was ruled out in Dirty Soccer as played at the Hale H. Cook school in Kansas City, Missouri, in the Golden Age of Dirty Soccer. There is such a thing as brutal competition within limits (e.g., the campaign for the Republican nomination) and such a thing as all-out war (e.g., the endgame in the battle between Charles and Diana).

Dirty Soccer was all-out war. Of course, a fourth-grader couldn't inflict the sort of damage that is within the capabilities of the 275-lb. hulks who go against each other in Ultimate Fighting, but it was not for lack of trying.

In Dirty Soccer your aim was to get the ball to the chain-link fence at the end of the field defended by your opponents, as I explained to my wife one day. How you did that was limited only by the efforts of the guys who were biting you and gouging your eye as you carried the ball down the field.

"Carried?" my wife said. "I thought you weren't allowed to carry the ball in soccer."

"That is not the game we were playing," I reminded her. "We were playing Dirty Soccer."

"But what would the referee say about someone carrying the ball?" "Why would you need a referee if nothing's against the rules?" Ultimate Fighting, I should point out, has a referee. These guys may act tough, but they have a referee.

There is no referee in the battle between Charles and Di. Queen Elizabeth may once have been under the illusion that she was the referee, but she was effectively out of the ring years ago. Also, since much of the fighting is carried on between each principal's pack of friends--packs well matched for loathsomeness--it can sometimes spin into the sort of mob frenzy so prized by Dirty Soccer devotees.

The Republicans, on the other hand, did have a referee. As it turned out, the referee was Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition. By chance, he looks the part. When you see him on television, you can almost hear some kindly gym coach say, "Neither team going to choose you, Ralph? That's O.K. You can be the referee. Also, that way you won't get your nice clothes dirty."

The rules weren't posted, but Reed knew what they were. Pat Buchanan was permitted to call Bob Dole "Beltway Bob," for instance, but Dole was not allowed to call Buchanan an extremist. Bob Dornan was allowed to say anything he wanted to say, for the same reason your wacky Uncle Harry was allowed to say anything he wanted to say.

After a while it became obvious that the Republicans had not only a referee but also some influential commissioners who were intent on preventing permanent injuries. Democrats are the only politicians who seem capable of behaving like people who have absorbed the rules of Dirty Soccer.



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