- Carl Ehrlich, Writer
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Editor's note: Carl Ehrlich, who was the captain of the 2009 Harvard football team, is in Spain to play football for the Valencia Firebats. He's chronicling his experiences on and off the field for ESPNBoston.com. This week it's all about Las Fallas, an annual festival in Valencia.
In response to my latest blog, I got a message from a friend who told me I was "living the good life," getting to experience Las Fallas and "get out of the gym for a week." My buddy couldn't believe I got to "forget about my football training and just hang out."
Excuse me? Yes, I've been out of the gym, but in no way have I stopped training.
Did Daniel-Son beat the Cobra Kai Dojo by stretching on a yoga mat? Did Rocky beat Drago by shoulder-pressing on a military machine?
Have we learned nothing from John Alvildsen's feel-good martial arts movies? Mechanized training is a thing of the past, a failed tactic of authoritative regimes and playground bullies.
So, with the democratic spirit in mind, I traded in my gym pass and spent Las Fallas training in a more natural, holistic way; in the streets, with the people. After a week of fine-tuning and slight adjustments, I've developed a comprehensive way to enjoy the magic of Fallas while training your body and mind for battle. One week on my plan and you too can have the "cuerpo de tus suenos."
"The Fallas Workout Plan; No Olypticals. No Physioballs. No Mercy."
Vision: No matter what position you play, vision and anticipation are what separate the good players from the great ones. In Valencia, it's what separates the healthy from the partially deaf.
Because Valencians firmly believe that a firework is not a firework unless thrown at the feet of a clueless American, seeing the field is the whole game. Just like dropping into pass coverage, the key to survival is keeping your head on a swivel. Stare off into space too long and the next thing you'll hear is the hiss of a burning fuse at your feet. And then you'll hear the explosion. And then you won't hear anything for 10 minutes.
Since every person is a potential assailant, the streets turn into a massive game of Clue. Will it be the pre-teen girls with the M-80 or the elderly couple with the Petardo Gigante? Keep your eyes peeled, because it's best not to find out.
Hitting the open gap: Crowd walking, as I alluded to in my last blog, is one of the biggest challenges Fallas poses. Master the art and the city is yours, become a victim and shuffle like cattle for a week.
But this isn't to say there's only one way to part the sea. VO, our running back, seamlessly cuts through the crowd with a series of hip twists and shoulder turns, a la Mr. Fantastic. Jason, our middle linebacker, sees the crowd more as an endless series of blocks that he takes on, bumps back and rips off of. Stuart, a smart quarterback if there's ever been one, grips onto my backpack and uses me as a battering ram through a sea of horrified Spanish faces.
Quick Release: While teams of professional pyrotechnics are responsible for the fireworks, most of the Fallas chaos is a grassroots affair. To take part, all you need is a little cash and a quick trigger.
In any hole-in-the-wall "Petardos" shop are explosives that toe the line between firework and deadly weapon. Except for a few simple store rules (18 or older and "no smoking please"), the fireworks are yours for the taking. The bigger the better, because the bigger the explosive, the bigger the incentive to get rid of the sucker.
Coaches: next time your quarterback pumps the ball too many times, give him one that explodes in three seconds.
Accuracy: With fireworks, the only question more important than 'How fast can I throw this thing?' is 'Where am I going to throw it?' This is a question best asked before lighting the device.
(Note: This piece of common sense escaped one of my "friends," who lit one of these monsters with no idea where to throw it, and decided to solve the problem by handing me the lit device. Thinking quick, I heaved the thing down a nearby ally, the "XXL" exploding before it hit the ground. Look Mom! Two hands!)
For Stuart, my do-it-all British quarterback, the disposal of these petardos was perfect practice in lieu of seven-on-seven. Instead of looking off the safeties, Stuart scanned the "field" for baby strollers and senior citizens. No children? No heart-attack risks? Light the fuse and bombs away. With this much on the line, there's no missing your spots.
Having completed our Fallas Workout Plan, the roommates and I are back in the weight room as we prepare for the road trip of a lifetime. Next weekend we cross the Mediterranean and strap up on Italian soil to take on the Bergamo Lions in our first transnational matchup of the year.
And speaking of two teams from different worlds ... best of luck to the Cornell Big Red in their game against Kentucky on Thursday. Although Jeremy Lin and all my Crimson ballers didn't get a chance to dance this year (despite an incredible, record-breaking season), I couldn't be happier to see an Ivy making this big of a splash in the tournament. Buena Suerte!
4hAdam Rubin and Kieran Darcy