Pigskin passion handed off

Enticed by the familiar smells and shouts of the football stadium, the writer sees her 5-year-old get hooked on the game.

It's hard to admit when we've made a mistake by pushing love out of our lives to please others or gain approval. I'm ready to admit I'm having an affair with an old love: football. There, I admitted it. Sadly, I don't feel any better because the team's away this week.

Over the past 69 years Old Dominion University, just blocks from our home, has not had a team. That changed in September to much hoopla and rejoicing, as I primly pooh-poohed.

Truth is, I have always secretly loved football. Shhh! Don't tell my husband the sailor, cyclist, intellectual. Or my mother.

It started when I was about 9 and my parents divorced. Life became a highly charged estrogen-infused atmosphere of extended female family: mom, grandma, and great-grandma all in one house. It was the man-haters association back in the day when our TV set was tuned to "That Girl," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and "One Day at a Time."

I looked forward to Thanksgiving when all my great-uncles came from north Jersey and the Midwest, filling the little house with deep laughter, football, and the scent of Old Spice. The television was loud and so were we. Forbidden snack foods came into the house of fat-free female form. It was heaven.

The women watched parades and cooked. The men laughed, ate, and hugged me until my head disappeared under their big powerful Polish arms. Those arms held families together; John Wayne men. I vow, I still can't cook a holiday meal today because I always sneaked out of the kitchen and dining room "henhouses" to huddle under the coffee table and whoop when the men did and secretly learn all the cuss words that slipped out on the bad plays.

But the old great-uncles passed away and football went with them. I learned from my New York City fashion designer mother that "boys don't like girls who eat chips and shout like longshoremen."

By the time ODU announced its football plan I thought I was quite immune to football's charms. I could scoff at the tailgaters and grouse about the traffic. See? I could quit anytime I wanted.

I might have stayed blasé, if I hadn't gone to the park behind the stadium on the second game day. The band gave me a twinge of nostalgia. Through the trees I could just about see the JumboTron showing a Monarch run for the goal. He crossed, and the roar washed through the trees and over the park.

I looked across the street and spotted a little knot of sturdy older men, who hadn't been able to get tickets, standing on the sidewalk watching the big screen to catch the game. I know I smelled Old Spice and stadium food on the breeze that carried the sound.

My heart began to beat faster, and I picked up my 5-year-old son who said, "I hate football, Mama! Can we go home now?"

Not just yet. I walked him to the big new parking garage and we began to climb the stairs to the roof. As we climbed, I told him it didn't matter whether he liked the game, this was about more than the game. At the top he was still complaining bitterly as I hoisted him into my arms and then he beheld the panorama of the stadium and giant screen below. The next touchdown for ODU was in progress, and the sounds and smells rose like a beautiful kite above the stadium to dance before his eyes.

"Woooo-hoo! Awesome!" Quin shrieked, punching the air. "I love football! I want to be on a field like them! I want to do this every day!" He whooped and clapped and booed with the capacity crowd and the ticketless parking-garage fans like a champ, and so did I. "This is our thing, Mama," he said very seriously, unwilling to share with his three older brothers.

"Yes, it is. It will be our time."

We stayed up there until it was dark and I felt Quin's little head clunk on my shoulder and his breathing get deep. Walking the three blocks home he seemed to get heavier. Fortunately, my heart was much lighter.

Now the only problem is: How will we cope on the away weekends?

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