In the latest 50 Hot Takes column, I advocated for the return of a game we played at New Hanover Upper Frederick Elementary School and Boyertown Junior High East in the 1990s.

We called it “Smear the <redacted>“, which would get us cancelled now, but I heard feedback from others who called this “muckle,” “cream the carrier,” and “kill the man with the ball.” Those last two are a little more blunt in the description, but it seems like everybody who played this had a different name for it. Maybe it was hyper-localized and nobody had a clue.

It truly was a great game, a mix between football, rugby, and wrestling, and we played it every time we went out for recess. The setup is really simple. You have a group of people of any size, and there is one single ball. It can be anything – a football, soccer ball, rugby ball, anything small enough to carry and run with. Then you go by this set of rules:

  1. everybody gathers together and one person throws the ball up in the air, like a jump ball
  2. the person who grabs it is the first carrier
  3. everybody else is tasked with taking the ball from this person
  4. that can come in any form – tackling, punching the ball out, headlocks, etc
  5. the person who takes the ball is the next carrier and the game continues

The goal is to hold the ball for as long as possible, and that’s how you win. We didn’t necessarily have somebody standing there with a stopwatch, but everyone kind of knew who ended up with the best time.

I’m not sure if this rule is universal or not, but we banned participants from creating teams, or factions. It was every man for themselves, and you had to stay within a certain area, otherwise people would just keep running and running and nobody would catch up to them.

Here’s a very crude example. It’s the only thing I could find on YouTube:

They’ve only got about a half-dozen people in this video, and the rules are slightly different, but you get the point. We played it with 50+ kids and it was a glorious shit show, just tons of maniacs running around thinking they were Reggie White and trying take the ball away.

I would assume the reason they don’t play this anymore is because it’s “dangerous.” Too rough, maybe unsafe, but I can’t remember anyone ever having to go to the nurse’s office afterward. This wasn’t a high-impact kind of game, it more resembled rugby when played on grass, with these huge scrums and close-quarters jockeying, almost like grappling. Nobody was running full speed at another guy and laying the wood like Sheldon Brown on Reggie Bush.

But it was a game that separated the men from the boys. You needed a lot of different traits to excel as a ball carrier. You needed strength, agility, and elusiveness. You needed constitution and endurance. And you needed to have a certain mindset to take the ball and try to fend off 50 of your scrawny classmates at the same time. It really was a sociological experiment in who had cajones and who did not. The playground was a crucible, not a safe space for wimps who needed some fresh air.

Maybe that’s why kids are soft these days. Are we losing our edge because the youth are doing TikTok dances instead of playing “kill the man with the ball“? I believe so. Instead of the dunk tank at the 2025 Flyers Charities Carnival, I suggest a “kill the man with the ball” charity game. Let’s make it happen.