Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ode to the Gridiron. And my dad.

It's a rainy, cold, gray day (courtesy Gustav). And it is not dampening my spirits at all. I woke up this morning with a vague sense that something was righter with the world.... It's Football Season, people!!!

I'm not joking.

Here's the deal: football is my family's love language. I repeat: not joking. We are not a lovey-dovey, kissy-huggy, emotive kind of family. But I'd be hard-pressed to find a closer family. We are tight. And somehow we transmit a lot of our feelings for each other through sports. I don't call my parents and get all mushy.... I call my parents and ask them how the Cubs did last night. (They lost, by the way, but they're still up five.) And football is the ultimate expression of affection. Maybe it's the time of year, the smell of autumn, the marching bands... I don't know. But we are nuts about football in my clan.

Don't believe me? Go to a football game with my dad. He might utter only a few sentences during the entire course of the game. Don't expect any small-talk. Don't expect him to do The Wave. Don't even expect him to necessarily respond to most of what you say. But go to a game with him. I guarantee you will come away feeling a bit safer, a bit more solid, and-- maybe-- a bit more loved. (Oh, man, he's gonna hate it that I'm going all psycho-babble on his football. But I can't help it.)

Oh, and because he's a former junior high football coach, you'll also come away knowing a whole lot more about the game of football. He's a football genius. Going to a game with him is like having your own personal John Madden, except he's not obnoxious.

I've spent a lifetime watching football games with Dad. Sitting next to him, listening to all the comments about The Fundamentals Of The Game, enduring the elements (he doesn't leave games just because it's 15 degrees or sleeting or pouring rain!), and absolutely loving it. Even when I was a teenager, even when I hated football, I still loved going to the games. I'd watch the crowd, the band, the cheerleaders... didn't much matter, because I was always just happy to be there with him.

Dad watches football pretty much the way he lives the rest of his life. Deeply observant, not a lot of fanfare, appreciative of feats great and small. I was thinking of writing a post called, "Everything I Needed to Know About Life I Learned from Watching Football with My Dad." There's definitely a lot of truth to that statement. Like:

  • Master the basics: You can't be good at the fancy stuff until you're good at the fundamentals.

  • It's not whether you win or lose.... You know the rest. But he really believes it. A win is great, but if you win cheaply you don't have much to be proud of.

  • Keep your eye on the ball. 'Nuff said.

  • Never, ever boo the other team or the officials: Respect and common decency are pretty important.

  • Do your job the best you can and keep your mouth shut: He doesn't really have a lot of time for Terrell Owens-like demonstrations of perceived personal greatness.

You get the idea.

If I had a nickel for every time one of his former players tells me how much Dad taught them about football and life and doing things right.... Somehow he took the game, and his love for it, and his love for teaching, and rolled it all together into this amazing life lesson for 13-year-old boys. He made quite an impression on lots of them.

Jensen's getting in on the action, now, too. He's in a flag football league. The happiest moment I've had recently is when Dad visited and played some ball with him, teaching him how to cut and post and catch. Jensen adores football. We're passing it on to the next generation....

Anyway, I think the rest of my family agrees with me on this. We're all equally enamored with the game. Jeff thought I was nuts at first (he doesn't come from quite the same football tradition), but we've won him over. And we're always willing to adopt more family, so let me know if you want in on this gridiron circle of love.

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