I’ve heard the question asked many times. I’ve felt it in the disapproving looks and seen it in the shake of a head. I’ve read it on social media in the form of memes and comments. Many of my friends ask it. “Why is a nice person like you so fanatical about a violent, physical game like that?” I have to smile when confronted with the question. You see, for me, it’s only partially about the game. As the NFL has touted all season, “Football is Family.”
When I was growing up, most Sundays were for going to church, enjoying a large, family breakfast, doing homework, and perhaps seeing a family-centered matinee (or in later years, renting a movie). But from the first weekend of August through the month of January, Sunday afternoons were spent with the Washington Redskins. I grew up in a great era for Washington football. In my younger years, there were Sonny, Charlie, and Ritchie; and in my teens, we had Joe, Riggo, Art, and the Hogs. The team wasn’t always good, but it was always there, like family.
Okay, I admit it. When I was a little girl, I hated football. And I do mean, I hated it. I dreaded football season when my brothers wore nothing but numbered jerseys emblazoned with the names of their favorite players, my mother screamed at the TV and playfully punched anyone near her when something distressing happened, and meals during 4:00 games consisted of pizza and cheese and crackers. No matter my feelings for the game or for the antics of my family, I had to endure those three hours every Sunday as if they were part of a sacred ritual. I was allowed to read, do homework, even sleep, but I had to be in the room with my family. Eventually, Redskin fever took hold of me. I was 11, and I discovered something never before realized in my pre-adolescent brain – boys liked football. And at 11, I realized that I liked boys. I never knew until that year just how much I had learned by osmosis; but that season, the season of the Hogs at their best, when Joe and Riggo took us into battle against the Miami Dolphins and pulled out a Super Bowl victory, I figured out that I could join in any conversation the boys in my class were having that involved football. It was an eye-opening revelation.
When the team rolled into Washington, D.C. for their victory parade, my family was there. An advantage of going to a private school near the District – our principal actually closed school that day so that those who wanted to could attend the parade. I still have very fond feelings for Sr. Victoire because of her understanding of the importance of the game to families. A game that, as quoted in the movie, Concussion, “is a mindless, violent game. And then it’s Shakespeare.” And in my house, it’s more than a game, more than a story; it’s family. It’s about a family watching the game, talking about the game, and spending time together (even if some members of the family are reading or sleeping rather than watching).
Ironically, my husband was not a sports fan when we met. For our first “date,” I invited him over “for dinner and the game.” It wasn’t until after we were engaged that he revealed to me that he had no idea what I was referring to by “the game.” After twenty-two years of marriage, I can happily report that he is a fan. Unfortunately, having all daughters, it is a challenge to get our children even interested in football. Our oldest will watch for a little while before becoming bored and complaining that the game is too complex, too hard to follow and understand. And she’s right. For those who don’t pay attention and learn the intricacies of the game, it is hard to follow and understand, but for those who take the time to learn it, football is a ballet involving the mind and the body that is danced on a 100 yard, green stage.
Sadly, I can no longer ply my girls to watch by using the logic “boys like girls who like football” because my girls are growing up in a different world where video games and personal electronics trump watching real, live sporting events. While most of the boys my girls have dated claim to have a favorite team that they follow, none of them actually watches the game. It breaks my heart, to tell the truth, that children today won’t experience the bond, forced as it was at times, that my family experienced. Football is just one more thing that families no longer do together, and it’s a shame. The good news is that my girls will share the love of a sport with their children – they are huge hockey fans. But in my house, win,lose, or tie, football will always mean family.
Amy Schisler is an author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages who lives with husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor on Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and on her web site http://amyschislerauthor.com.
Crabbing With Granddad (2013)
A Place to Call Home (2014)
Picture Me (2015)