Introduction: About a year ago I posted this essay on football.It seems timely to post it again.
Our #2 son, who played high school football and is now the National Junior Team head coach in Finland, offered some thoughtful words of rebuttal to my original essay. I should note that this is American-style football, not European soccer (which is also known as ‘football’ across the pond). I thought his comments were well worth printing.
So here is the original essay, updated with his responses in italics and bold:
When our second son began to play high school football and I heard the sound of two solid bodies colliding with a resounding thud, my stomach flip-flopped quicker than a politician's viewpoint. A dedicated mom, I sat through good weather and bad, and good games and bad, watching intently to see what #9 did. In one game, using perfectly legal moves, he caused one opponent to have a concussion and another a dislocated kneecap. I was heartsick. His coaches were euphoric."I didn't order this!" I wanted to protest to the parents of the injured boys, as if the waiter had brought me the wrong dinner. But there he was, my own darling little boy, a hero on the football field.
# 2 son’s response: Since day one my coaches taught me that when playing zone defense, anyone who came into my zone was fair game. Well, on that chilly night a certain individual from the opposing team decided to test my will and entered my zone. Not only did he enter my zone, but he had the nerve to catch the ball which had been thrown to him.
Since he had clearly entered my marked territory I proceded to protect my domain with a perfectly legal hit. In realizing I was coming at him with a full head of steam, the opposing player chose to duck and cover, which is a great tactic when dealing with a river of molten lava coming right at you, but not the most effective way to violate another player’s territory. Needless to say, I believe he learned his lesson about entering #9’s area again.
The second individual, also known as a running back, had repeatedly violated #9’s space during the course of the game. After #9 came at him with a full head of steam and collided with him numerous times, opposing player still chose not to vacate the premises. After enough of these hits it seems he had a vision, a vision that showed him stars and a nice trip to the sideline via help from two other players and a nice ovation from the crowd. I like to think I gave him the attention and cheers he had always dreamed of.
Since I didn't understand the game at all, I began taking a small sports radio to games with me so I wouldn't have to ask Husband, "What happened?" every three minutes."It was an offsides play," I told him smugly during one time-out. He was so impressed with my new-found knowledge, I finally had to show him the radio. Now that the boys are all away at universities, Husband wants the pleasure of my company at our local university’s home football games. He owes me about 35 Shakespeare plays and ten book club meetings in return.
One particular Saturday was not a good day for the home team, though the weather was splendid. At the last moment, before heading to the car, I grabbed a paperback book and tucked it into my coat pocket. Husband's best friend and brother-in-law were with us, so there was plenty of male bonding material available for them. I thought it was only fair that reading material was available for me.
"You didn't see the game!" Husband protested on the way home. "Oh, yes, I did,” I replied smugly. “I saw it when we sacked the quarterback, when our punt got blocked, when they had a 50 yard kickoff return . . . " He was impressed, as well as convinced that I had indeed seen the game. It was in between those brief moments of action on the field when I could get a solid page or two read.
That's what football is all about. They all line up opposite each other, in various formations. Then one big guy in tight white pants kicks the ball or throws it, and all the others try to get it. In the process they tackle, knock down, dive at the opponent’s feet and basically flatten each other on the artificial turf. Refs in zebra striped shirts throw out yellow hankies and blow whistles, peel the players off the pile one by one, and talk to each other in sign language. Guys with big orange stakes measure yards gained or lost. Then the head ref turns on his microphone and talks to the crowd, using that secret sign language I have yet to decode. The crowd reacts accordingly. Then the refs blow the whistle and the players all line up and go at it again.
Bands from each school play while cheerleaders do scary pyramids. During halftime the marching band manages to play and march at the same time without collisions. The cymbal players even turn cartwheels when they aren’t clanging away at their shiny copper-colored pan lids. During all of this the band’s spokesman gives a lively narration so you can understand the all-important plot enacted by the musicians and dancers and flag-twirlers. Usually it’s a saga, a tribute to somebody or other, but I can assure you, the Beatles did not write their music for marching bands. Anyway, if the narrator didn’t explain all of this to the crowd, I'd understand even less about the halftime entertainment than the game itself.
Throughout the game someone sitting in your row decides he/she needs refreshment or other forms of relief every ten minutes or so, which means everybody stands up to let them by. When they come back, we all stand up again. Sometimes the rest of the crowd interprets this as a standing ovation and jump to their feet, too. It's a form of spectator aerobics.
#2 son’s response: In life you need a few things to survive: food, water, and live college football. The camaraderie felt between trusting supportive fans who pass hot dogs and beer down the aisle to people they probably have never met, and then are kind enough to also pass the change back without stealing it, shows the amazing bond us fans have.
At least they’ve abandoned the cannons. In past years when we would score, some anonymous person who likes to scare old ladies would shoot off cannons. No matter how prepared I would be for this unpleasant jolt, I’d always jump halfway out of my seat. You should see me in the theater when one actor pretends to shoot another and the sound of a fake gunshot echoes throughout the building. It’s downright embarrassing but that’s just the way my brain is wired.
Back to the game and the cannons. Our sweet old cocker/beagle Molly was particularly sensitive to certain noises. Since we live only a mile away from campus, the poor puppy suffered during home games. If we’d left her outside, we would come home to a ruined basement window screen, evidence that she’d tried desperately to find a way inside, where it was safe. Inevitably, after I’d recovered from the first “booms!” of the game, Husband and I would turn to each other and ask, “Did you put Molly inside before we left?” If not, it was too late anyway, and a new screen would have to be ordered.
Now, I must admit that the students add to the entertainment factor. There is a stalwart group of young men who go shirtless and paint their chests with the letters of the university’s name, in the school’s color. In our case it’s blue, which comes in handy on a frosty afternoon, when the poor fellows are turning blue anyway. This season, two dedicated students attended every game and held up signs, one next to the other. One sign was the letter “D” and the other was a white picket fence. It took me half the season to interpret them. “ ‘D’ plus + ‘fence’ . . . defense! They mean defense!” I exclaimed, quite pleased with my discovery, but unfortunately the clever signs didn’t help the players, who probably never even saw them.
#2 comments: The only thing more contagious than bird flu and the common cold is the ever-present and fan favorite “the wave” which can even move those unhappy book readers to a moment of bonding with the other 20,000 fans who have decided to put all racial, religious and political differences aside to work as a united front in executing “the wave.”
Every time I attend a home game, I stare at the score board and wonder how it can take twenty minutes to whittle two minutes off the game clock. This goes on for four or five or six hours on a perfectly nice Saturday afternoon until the final horn blows and we are excused from detention. Sometimes it rains or snows and those games last about seven or eight hours.
And that is how, one lovely Saturday afternoon last fall, I read 150 pages of John Grisham's The King of Tortswhile the visiting team whopped my alma mater 52-0.
#2’s indignant response, including a comment on my choice of authors: As for reading a book and then watching the replay at a live game, this also has been known as an act of terrorism. A live football game, regardless of how horrid the team is, should never be insulted by fans reading novels of insignificance.