For the love of football
Special to Stars and Stripes February 9, 2024
“Tray, your sister missed the bus, so drop her off on your way to school!” my mother bellowed from the porch as my brother was about to get into his maroon Galaxy 500.
“Are you kidding me?” he griped, as I stood pathetically in the driveway. He was a senior in high school, and I was in middle school. He drove himself, along with several football team buddies, to school each morning, passing right by the middle school on the way, but he didn’t want to be seen with his geeky little sister. In my defense, my bus stop was a half-mile down our rural dead-end road, and the bus had come a smidge early.
“Get in, and keep your trap shut,” Tray snapped. In the back seat, I tried to be invisible. He fired up the Galaxy’s engine and turned on the stereo, which he had installed himself. “Wango Tango” by Ted Nugent blared.
On the outskirts of town, Tray’s football buddies hopped in the Galaxy with a quick “Sup” before the stereo volume was turned back up. They all looked the same — hair parted down the middle, stone-washed jeans, tube socks and turf shoes.
I was starstruck. I didn’t interact with the cool crowd, much less high school football players. Even though they glared at me with disdain, I savored this rare opportunity.
As Tray’s car approached my middle school, he slowed and gave me a threatening glance. I’d better get out, and quick. No good-byes, just go, and never let this happen again. Regardless of my brother’s irritation, I was exhilarated, and hoped someone saw that I’d jumped out of a car full of high school football players.
Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, football was a big part of life. If you didn’t play football, you watched it. Being a Steelers fan was mandatory. High school football games were the prime event on fall Friday nights. Even though I didn’t understand much about the game, positive associations were imprinted that would last a lifetime.
Later on, it took marriage and kids before I discovered the pleasure of sitting on a couch and watching football at home. It’s there that I began to understand the rules.
When our son was 11, we signed him up for flag football. Having registered late, Hayden was placed on a team that was so bad, no one stepped up to coach. My husband volunteered, and I became team mom. “The Sharks” lost every game, but we excelled in team spirit, creating unique cheers, waving purple towels and blasting the theme from “Jaws” from our side of the field.
While stationed in Europe, we went to great lengths to watch American football, often resorting to the frustrating early versions of online streaming. Since our cumbersome Dell computer was located in the primary bedroom, our family of five, along with our 110-pound dog, would gather on our bed with snacks. When our team scored, the bed became a human salad shooter, with nacho chips, paper plates and drink cups flying everywhere.
On a fall family trip to Paris, we found a bar that played the Steelers-Browns game. And on a February trip to Rome, we woke in the middle of the night to watch the Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
During that tour, Hayden joined the high school football team. A band geek at heart, during halftime, he’d run off the field, fully geared up in his pads and jersey, to play tuba with the band. Then he was back on the field for the second half. We were so proud.
Hayden went on to play lineman at two more high schools. In Florida, I was team mom again, which became my unpaid, full-time job. I baked cupcakes, raised funds for a new scoreboard, applied for tax-exempt status for the Boosters Club and planned the end-of-season banquet. During the season, I communicated with the coach more than with my husband.
Now empty nesters in Rhode Island, my husband and I will be watching the Super Bowl on our couch at home with a pot of chili, while we wait for grandchildren that we can manipulate into playing football one day.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org