This past American football season was the first I’ve watched as a serious fan. What’s taken me so long? I’m glad you asked.
Let’s dial back the clock a bit. I grew up with two older brothers, the younger of which was a TV tyrant. I would lose access, most times violently, to the television when any sports game was on. Baseball and football left figurative and literal scars.
Fast forward to 7th through 12th grades. I dismissed participating in sports. Cheerleading was the only activity that held my interest; we danced a lot. I loved cheering for the basketball and soccer teams. My suppressed competitive nature turned out to work quite well with screaming and cheering on sidelines.
College introduced a whole new level of fandom for me. Pittsburgh has great fans even if the teams stink. Pitt always has amazingly acrobatic cheerleaders. Basketball and football games were fun to attend with friends. The whole day centered around the game. The school spirit was palpable. I felt like I belonged to of some sort of Pitt warring clan. (Tonight we ride!)
Leaving school put my sports fandom a bit on hold, except for being dragged along to 76ers games with my husband before we were married. Let me tell you, the 76ers are no way to win over a gal. Still, it was fun to be in the stadium, scream, and people watch (no real cheerleaders, though).
Then marriage, kids, jobs, etc. came along. Having children warps a woman’s brain. Any bloodthirst I had left me. I couldn’t watch a college football player get hit without cringe taking ahold of my body. I would just think of that poor kid, his future, his worried mother!
Now, I know many of you men reading this think that last sentence is totally ridiculous. Here’s my attempt to explain it to you (go with me here):
Let’s say you happen upon rusty shell of your favorite car. You bring it home. You slowly and painfully work on restoring the car to its former glory. It takes years. It’s expensive. It’s frustrating. Most of the time you have no idea what you’re doing. Sometimes you are convinced it’ll never run. But you keep plowing away at it.
You find other guys online who are building your same car from scratch. These are your boys, simpatico, sharing stories and your love of this model car. You make a great connection with a guy named Pedro. He’s your mentor. You both are finishing up your babies at about the same time, but he’s been more cash and time strapped than you, so it’s taken him 20 years to build the most beautiful car you’ve ever seen. Pedro’s a true artist.
The day comes for your car’s first trip around the block. It’s a huge day. Pictures. Videos. Pedro texts you a “thumbs up” icon. The car’s engine purrs. She turns on a dime. The trip around the neighborhood is a success! You feel victorious! You get ‘er safely back in the garage and jump on the laptop to upload your media to share with Pedro and the guys. You click on a top post. It’s a short video, but with hundreds of distraught comments. The video is posted by Pedro. Your breath stops. You click play.
The video starts out the same way as yours. But then the camera shakes. You hear giggling. You hear something like soda or beer spilling. You realize with horror the dopey friends of Pedro’s kid have hijacked the keys. Your heart seizes. Pedro has been working his whole life on this car. He worked extra hours to be able to afford just one part at a time. You had even sent a pic of his work to a location scout you know in Hollywood who was interested in paying Pedro to use the car for an upcoming movie. You hope the video stops there. You pray those little jerks will just put the precious vehicle back in the garage. No such luck.
For the next several minutes, you see scratch after scratch mar the perfect sheen of the paint. Dents happen. You hear grinding gears. After a few minutes of this havoc, there’s a sudden, bitter crash of metal on steel and the screen goes black. You choke back tears. Poor car. Poor Pedro. He’ll never recover. He’ll never be able to fix it. The rest of his life will be tainted by this one fateful day.
OK. So, the feeling in your heart, there, that cringe when you realized Pedro’s heart was broken? That is the same cringe I felt, as a mother who carried 2 children INSIDE OF HER for a total of over 18 months, when I saw sports injuries happen on the football field. I simply had to stop watching football. I especially had to avoid college ball. Unlike Pedro, I did not buy parts for my children online. I did not construct them with my hands. They are literally part of my body, not just some tiny DNA parts (for which we thank you, no doubt. But don’t even try to front you did more). I know those young men on the field were someone else’s project, but being as invested as I am in my own babies, I have to feel some heartbreak at that scene. I can’t imagine the wrenching adoptive moms feel, as they have worked much, much harder to get their babies. Watching a child, just like yours, get pummeled and lie writhing in pain on the field. And think of it, those scenes happen over and over again for two 40-minute halves. It can be torturous.
While my children grew and my heart was getting a bit tougher, my husband and I still had a lot to learn about getting along as a couple and parents. The thought of sitting on the couch and watching football with him when he was supposed to be cleaning out the gutters made me want to puke.
Fast forward a few years. Both of my kids are in school or preschool now. Tender ages, but not tiny babies. My husband has made strides in his good-husbandness and now makes sure everything is squared away before football. Things are getting easier. At this point, I’m not watching the game exactly. I sit with him and knit or read in front of the TV. He makes sure to warn me when they are replaying an injury scene so I don’t accidently see it.
Fast forward a bit more. Now we come to this season. Both kids in full time school. The kids are older, so we could travel back to Pitt for Homecoming, where we saw all the old, fun folks. It wasn’t like old times. It was better. Tailgating!
We come back home, things are normal. A few years ago, I happened to get to know a lovely couple, Sally and Martin. Sally and Martin are from the south. These are LSU folks (purple!), so make no mention of Roll Tide and everything will go smoothly. This fall, Sally, me and our other two girlfriends and their families would gather for LSU games. Fun! Again!
And then it happened: Snuggling up with Sally and friends on the couch, all biting our nails together, yelling “GEAUX TIGERS!”, I remembered it all. It was the fun of college games, all over again. I could watch football like that, with girlfriends, good food, and guys who weren’t condescending or rude when we asked a simple question. I loved it. Sally said, “I never realized you were such a football fan!” Yeah. Neither did I.
Now, if only the Eagles would make me WANT to be a football fan. I definitely chose the wrong season to stop avoiding football. Though it’s been great fun watching & texting about the games with my friend Austin, who also chose to get back into it this year. Even bad football is always better with friends. Check out his thoughts on being a first season fan.
In the next article, I’ll use my experience here and gather some intel on how you can make your wife, too, into a huge football fan like me. (Subscribing is the best way to catch my posts.)
How about you? Have you ever done a 180 degree turn in your behavior/beliefs that has shocked and dismayed/pleased those around you?
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