I have never been a football fan. My early memories of the sport were of my father and his friends yelling at the television, at each other and at any of us kids who accidentally lost their first tooth during the Super Bowl and wanted to proudly show it off, only to be ushered to the kitchen where my mother was making delicious game-day snacks and would quietly celebrate my milestone. (I quickly learned that you never interrupt a game on television). My dad always invited me, my brothers and sisters to watch the games; however, as soon as the yelling and couch pounding began, I retreated to my bedroom with a plate of chips, brownies and lil' smokies to read Beverly Cleary, Ann M. Martin and Judy Bloom.
And then to everyone's amazement, I married an athletic, crazed sports fan.
During the beginning years of our relationship, my husband would play baseball or basketball, and I would suppport him by sitting in the stands and reading a trashy novel. Whenever someone else would cheer for him, I would join them. I would make up for my tardy cheering and my lack of attention by yelling extra loudly and bragging to all about his prowess in the bedroom. We had a perfect understanding. Once we had children, I would wake up early on Saturday mornings and pack enough bags filled with snacks and toys to entertain an entire day care.
My husband and I registered our children for sports as soon as they could walk. We wanted them to take after their father, so that meant starting them playing sports as early as posssible. He took them to Pop and Tot sport classes. Since preschool all three children have played fall and spring soccer, baseball, tennis and basketball.
And then this fall, Brooks, our first grader, informed us that instead of playing fall soccer, he wanted to play football. I was terrified. He was only six years old and forty-two pounds. And he wanted to play football: a game in which larger children would tackle him?! The other parents reassured me that the organization made sure the helmets fit properly and provided the shoulder pads. They explained that the boys would have all the necessary equipment for protection. All I heard was that blood-thirsty boys wearing heavy equipment would be ramming into my son (my youngest, my baby) with the intention of tackling his fragile forty-two pound little body. I envisioned his pediatric height and weight chart. Brooks had yet to crack the 20th percentile for weight, and I was supposed to send him out onto the field to get trampled?
But Brooks wanted to play. Really wanted to play. He had been a football fan since he was a newborn watching University of Michigan curled up on his Dada's chest. He loved watching the Michigan Wolverines, Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys play on tv. He really wanted to play, too. After I finished whispering a couple of Hail Marys, I finally relented. With a shaky hand and tears gathering in my eyes, I filled out the registration forms and signed the waiver.
While my husband took him to buy the necessary pads, mouth guard, practice jersey, helmet, etc., I stopped at Costco and bought the largest First Aid kit they sold. I brought it home and gingerly placed my grandmother's Rosary inside for extra precaution. I added our parish's phone number to my cell phone contact list and was finally ready to start the season.
Football changed my son. Brooks has always been our confident child. He has been strutting like a rooster since he first took steps. He has incredible self-esteem, but football gave him even more. He was proud. He was tough. He was determined to bring down those other kids - some of whom were twice his size. He was invigorated by the fans screaming on the sidelines. He played with determination and grit; he played to win. And I loved every single moment of it! I proudly wore my spirit wear to the games, painted my finger nails purple; and even though I didn't understand the game at all, I screamed as loud as I could every time I saw my little bobblehead take the field!
Once the season was over, Brooks took his newly discovered passion for football to the next level. He had to watch every college and pro game that was played. It didn't matter which team was playing - he would coach them all from our couch. And Brooks is a stern, now seven year old coach, who has morphed into his father and grandfather. He yells at the players, yells at the coaches, argues with referrees and celebrates like a wild man when his teams win.
My husband is thrilled, especially because Brooks has now gotten our ten year old, Phillip, excited about football, too. (Our daughter, Cassie, is a lot like me. Though her dad invites her to watch the games and tries to explain the sport to her, she would prefer to curl up with a good book and a soft blanket in her bedroom.)
And what do I do while the football frenzy has completely overtaken my once-quiet and peaceful weekends? During football season, I shop at Caputo's and stock up on meats, cheeses, meatballs and chocolate covered peanuts and pretzels. At game time, I sit on the couch with my boys, a plate of delicious snacks, earplugs and a romance novel to read. My little slice of heaven: good food, trashy book, and my squirming noisy boys (husband included) all around me.
So, I'm not sure if the Catholics have a football prayer or not. (I should probably check Notre Dame's website.) My dad certainly never taught me one, and the only "religious" phrases exclaimed while he was watching sports couldn't be said in a church. So, I'll be praying the classics this week for the good ol' Chicago Bears as they play the Green Bay Packers this weekend. I don't know any of the stats or details or long history that I hear in excited chatter all around me. I'm not a sports fan, nor is it likely that I ever will be. But please, God, let the Bears win. You really don't want to piss off my seven-year old.
Tags: Ann M. Martin, Beverly Cleary, Caputos, catholic, Chicago Bears, Costco, Dallas Cowboys, family, First Aid, Football, Green Bay Packers, Hail Mary, humor, Judy Bloom, Michigan Wolverines, Notre Dame, Parenting, prayer, Religion, Rosary, snacks, sports, sports fans, television, University of Michigan