Aside : Football

Over the last couple of years you’ve noticed that on certain Sundays when the days start to get shorter Daddy will spend a couple of hours occasionally on the couch watching a game. Not every Sunday and not all the time, but often enough for you to get curious. “Football” it’s called. You don’t really understand, but you ask about the colors and the teams and notice that Daddy is rooting for the team in the green with the bird on it.

“Which team do you like, Daddy?”

“Daddy likes the Philadelphia Eagles, babe.”

Then you would snuggle in for a few minutes before heading off to play or read with your sisters. Every so often you’d come back to me and say “Who’s winning?” or “How many points do they have?” I would answer, and you’d nod sagely if you can tell that Daddy wasn’t so happy about it, or grin and put your hands up if I was . Then you’d go back off to play.

Yesterday, I tried for the first time to explain the rules of football to all of you.

I started off simply, so I thought. “Okay, each team has four turns to move the football 10 yards.”

Realizing that I needed to start from first principles, I grab the tape measure to show you how many inches make a foot, and then how many feet make a yard. This involves an entire discussion on distance and relative distances and an aside on safety with the metal tape measure and the retracting mechanism. That takes pretty much the entire first quarter.

Once that seems to be settled, we move on.

“So on each turn the team who has the football has to somehow get the ball from here to there”. I pointed to the yellow line on the TV that marks the place on the field where the team needed to reach to get a first down.

“How did the line get there?” And now we cue into a discussion of how the line really doesn’t exist on the field, and if we were at the game we wouldn’t see it, and the players don’t see it but WE see it.  Existential stuff.

After that foray, I try to go further. “So this guy here – the quarterback – can either throw the ball to one of his guys, or give the ball to one of his guys who can run. The other team tries to stop them.” I use my DVR to pause and rewind to show them a couple of different plays.  You all look at me blankly after a while.  “Daddy, can we go play?” I sigh and nod of course, and then the playing cards are pulled out. (So glad I taught you how to play “War”. Still haven’t broken to you that the game never really ends.)

As I watch the rest of the game, I have a realization. You know Daddy is rooting for the Eagles, and that’s really all you care about. You shout “Go Eagles!” when I do, and put up your hands when I scream for the touchdown. But instead of looking at the TV, you’re really just looking at me.

And for a second I feel an echo in myself. Sitting in my dad’s car listening to the radio on the way back from his store, OUR time despite my many protestations over the unfairness of losing half my weekend and my brother not having to go. The soothing familiar voice of Merill Reese calling the game, us lingering at one of the innumerable red lights on Roosevelt Boulevard caught up in a particular moment. The fist pump and the cry of exaltation when a touchdown was scored, me looking at my dad instead of the radio.

So the explanation of off-sides vs encroachment can wait, my dear. I think you’re actually getting it.