Joe is not at his sharpest at 6 AM the day after a football game, which led to the following exchange this morning:
“Joe, I washed your football girdle, but it has to dry. Do you have time to come home before the varsity game?”
“No, we’re probably going to stay after school and watch film,” he replied.
“Okay, how about if I take it to work, and I can run it over to the school this afternoon?” I work just five minutes from the high school, so that would be easy enough to do.
Joe considered that for a moment, then decided he would have time to come home after school after all. ”Can you take it to work and bring it home when I get home from school?” he asked.
“Joe,” I said patiently, “If you’re going to come home, why would I take the girdle to work? I’ll just leave it here and you can get it when you come home.”
“Oh, right,” he said. The pistons are not all firing yet, which is understandable. It was a late night before, and a very narrow loss to a rival they really would have liked to beat. It was “Bulldogs vs Bulldogs,” and unfortunately both Bulldogs could not win.
It was a fight right down to the wire, when our Bulldogs scored with only 49 seconds left on the clock, bringing the score up to 13-14. The energy level in the crowd up to that point (which was only parents; students hardly ever go to JV games) had been low, the peppy little cheerleaders cheering only for themselves.
But with that touchdown, it was like a bolt of electricity surged through the metal bleachers, and the tired parents jumped to their feet and started stomping and cheering. The players on the sidelines clustered into a pack and followed the play, jumping up and down like dogs straining at the leash, wanting to be on the field with their brothers, willing that ball to fall into their hands again! Just one more try, a few more seconds and we can win!
Our Bulldogs tried to convert for two points and got flagged for “aiding the runner,” which is apparently towing the runner across the goal line, and I don’t know what is wrong with that, but in the arcane rule book of football, it is not allowed. You can bury the quarterback under eleven players, you can T-bone a receiver at 30 miles an hour, but you cannot grab a player and tow him across the line for a goal.
So that was the game. The clock ran out, and on the next snap the other Bulldogs took a knee and it was over. It was a disappointing loss, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
We always sit as far away from the other parents as we possibly can, so that I don’t say something about football to embarrass us, and my husband doesn’t say something about the players to embarrass us. At the last game, he remarked loudly that the passing wasn’t as good as last year. I texted him (even though I was sitting right next to him; he doesn’t like it when I whisper because it’s too conspicuous) that the quarterback was the same as last year, and his father was sitting directly in front of us.
I also don’t want to sit near anyone because I don’t want to hear them criticize my son, and the parents just can’t help themselves. Next to where we were perched at the very top of the bleachers last night, a peanut gallery of football know-it-alls hollered helpful suggestions at the coaches, the players and the refs. After one of their tirades, the mom of the player they were criticizing turned around and shouted all the way to the top of the bleachers, “HEY! That’s my son you’re talking about!”
And I knew how she felt. That’s my heart running like the wind down on that huge field, trying to catch that little ball and be a hero. That’s my heart at the bottom of an 800 pound pile of sweaty teenage boys, holding onto that ball for dear life. You better not be talking about him.
Joe says it is an honor to be on this team, because of the brotherhood and the unity. At this time in his life, football is life. It’s his proving ground, his band of brothers, where he is learning stuff about what it means to be a man.
And that’s what football is like, it’s a fight, a proxy for war, in which young men are tested and tried on the field of battle without actually killing or being killed, where they learn about sacrifice, honor, teamwork and obedience. Where they learn how to “hold on, when there is nothing in you, except the will which says to you: Hold on!”
Which is hardly an original thought, but it is what occurs to you, when you’re watching your son from the bleachers, as he is engaged in a quest for glory on a Thursday night.
What’s your view of it? I’d love to hear what you think about football, competition or sports parents.