I never cared about football.
It was OK. Something to do, I mean. As a kid we used to go to see the USD Coyotes play. (That’s South Dakota, of course.) In high school, I was in the band so I went to every game. I don’t recall a single play or score or season result, though. I was in the pep band, and when something good happened on the field, the drum major got our attention and directed us to play some perky fight song. So if we did that a lot, I guessed things were going well. It didn’t matter to me at all. Football was just something to do while everyone waited for our halftime show. And in college, it was a social event. Every other row of people faced backwards.
I just didn’t care about football.
Then I grew up and we found ourselves with a son who wanted to play. Our Louie. A little guy. Seven. I was confused. My husband played baseball, but I didn’t come from athletic stock, really. My family was more into music and art. I just couldn’t relate.
But OK. We liked to let our kids try new things. He liked playing baseball, but football would be fine to try. When they suited up these little people they were mostly pads with very little kid in there.
When I watched the first practice, I found the sound of the drills to be rather disturbing. The collision of all those helmets and pads made and actual “crunch” sound and all of my maternal instincts said, “You must stop this.”
But he was fine and seemed to enjoy the activity, so I bit my tongue and watched. The coaches were wonderful men. They were safety- and technique-focused, and they made sure the kids were having fun and gaining confidence. So I sat in the stands, clenching everything and trying not to gasp audibly. I was comforted that my little guy had enough sense to stay away from the ball. He figured out people near the ball got knocked around so he would wisely run along the side of the play. Away from the action. I had no problem with that.
At some point, though, he got the ball and ran far enough to win some cheers and attention. He was hooked. And then he started to like the part where they crash into each other. I was clenching again.
But what a happy boy. And his coaches enjoyed him because he was pretty good and he did what they told him to do. He was deemed “very coach-able”. We marveled at this because it didn’t necessarily translate to other aspects of his life. He’s a good kid and always has been, but following instructions at home related to chores has never won him a “coach-able” designation.
He was bigger than other seven-year-olds. When he got the ball, he wouldn’t let go and he wouldn’t fall down. He could drag a half dozen opponents ten yards whenever they needed him to, so he was always good for a first down. He was the Christmas tree, they were the ornaments. When they were on a 4th down, the parents started chanting, “LOU-IE! LOU-IE!” He would eat it up. The attention, and the yards.
Our son stuck with baseball. And he stuck with football, too. He continued to be taller and stronger than most kids his age. Coaches continued to like him. He continued to love football I continued to clench.
Every once in a while some thoughtful friend (hmmm) would send me an article about a tragic football injury or worse. It filled me with dread. I questioned myself and worried aloud to my husband.
But I was also learning the game of football. And learning to love it. Most of all, I loved watching our kid fall in love with a thing. He was working so hard and pushing himself. We bought fan jerseys with his name and number. And then he’d get a new number the next year and we ‘d have to start all over again.
And I’d cheer like a wild person. I’d never boo, and I’d never complain about coaches or officials. But I’d scream and whoop and whistle and full-on uvulate. I wanted my son to know I was there. That I was willing their success. That I was proud of every ounce of effort they were putting out.
My husband was my personal football tutor. He knows sports. And he was so patient with me. He gently answered every stupid question I asked him. All game long.
“What just happened?” I’d ask after a confusing play.
“They called holding.”
“What does that mean?”
“Instead of blocking them legally, they hooked ’em with their arms and stopped their motion.”
“Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?”
“Not like that. They’re supposed to block them with their hands in front of them. They get in trouble when their hands go outside their shoulders.”
“Wow. That’s so limiting. So what happens now?”
“They make ’em go back 15 yards from where the foul happened.”
“Dang! What the heck!”
“It’s OK. I saw it happen. The referee made a good call.”
“Did Louis do the illegal thing?”
“Nope. It was another kid.”
“OK. Good.” Relieved my kid didn’t do something illegal.
This went on throughout the whole game. It usually started with “What just happened?” Most men would eventually say, “Just watch the game, for freak’s sake!” But not my John. He still provides this service to me. The guy is a saint.
By about the 5th or 6th year, I started to get it. It’s especially hard these days because our son is now a lineman. It’s a tangled mess down there and sometimes I have no idea what my kid did. John helps me though. I even worked on the chain gang a couple of times, moving the markers on the sidelines. It was a blast being on the field so close to the action. Especially on the opposing team’s side. I could eavesdrop and hear them talking smack about our team and I could give them dirty looks. Nothing like the wrath of an opposing mom when you’re caught talking smack about her boys. If looks could kill.
I recall once witnessing a giant kid from the other team grabbing Louis’ facemask and pushing him backwards onto the ground with it. I saw the whole thing happen. I was so enraged I could hardly breathe. That was as close as I ever came to jumping onto the field. Which wasn’t very close…I didn’t leave my seat. But I stood up and screamed at the kid and I thought about hunting him down in the parking lot and yelling at his mother to get her kid under control. But I’m all talk.
Louis is going to be a senior in high school now. He’s quite a good football player and he plays for a good team. His teammates – past and present – are like brothers to him. I think we’d enjoy watching him play even if he wasn’t that good or his team didn’t always win. We’d still get to scream things like “GET ‘IM LOUIE! GO GET ‘IM” But winning helps. It helps a lot. He works hard and he loves the game. He hopes to play college ball. It might be nice if he just focused on his education…
But if he does decide to play, we’ll be there.
Ok, so I care about football. I can’t help it.