My favorite sport has come under some attack the last few years. The number of parents (primarily moms) who have decided not to allow little Johnny Sixpack play tackle football has grown. Across my state and the country, fewer young people are playing the sport.
There are reasons, and good ones. Fear of injuries definitely dominate the discussion amongst modern parents. It is harder and harder for mom’s (and dad’s) to watch their son (primarily) get banged around and ultimately hurt. It is a violent game and the “rub dirt on it” approach doesn’t seem to have been passed down successfully to the most recent generation(s) of parents.
My own son’s have been injured. Nate fairly serious twice and Austin once. Because of football we discovered that at least two of my boy’s have a rare genetic issue called “multi-lateral” or “loose” shoulders. Nate and Austin (never got to Jack because he stopped playing after 8th grade), can move their shoulders back and forth and up and down. Kind of gross actually and both hurt it playing the game they chose to play, and both had a surgery, yes in high school as teen agers, that fixed it. Frankly we probably never would have known if it wasn’t for the big hits on the gridiron. Nate went back to the field and Austin decided that being hurt wasn’t for him. So, I get it. And you know what? It was hard to watch my boy’s get hurt and then go through surgery and then go through rehab. It really was. I was proud of the work ethic they showed in getting healthy and yes, I tried to use it as a learning opportunity.
But about outside of injury? Why is our country obsessed, women too, with this modern day gladiator spectacle? What is it about this game that we are willing to shell out hundreds if not thousands of dollars to watch people crash into each other so violently? Is it really as simple as the oft-compared gladiator games of the ancient world? Are humans simply bloodthirsty enough in our primal state that watching these games unfold become “must see” TV? Is it hard wired? Possibly, but I would add a few more reasons to Why Football Matters.
I alluded to the gladiator-style games of ancient history. Wrestling, in all of its forms goes back probably to the dawn of time and fighting literally goes that far back (Cain and Abel) and I bet became a spectator “sport” shortly after. Humans indeed have been enamored with the struggle, historically, fighting, pushing, pulling, strategizing, and finding something in the human spirit to keep going, and in a lot of cases, to not give up.
Versus the Other Sports
There is an old George Carlin bit that pokes fun at the difference between football and baseball. Baseball using words like “safe” and “home” whereas football has terms like “tackle,” “trenches,” “war,” and the “line.” A sport where an 11 on 11 “game” that requires each person to do his job for his team to win. Literally no other sport has the same kind of elements. It is hard for a superstar to carry a team. He needs the offensive line, the linebackers, even the kicker, for his team to be successful. I have always argued that outside of the QB sneak and the kneel down in victory formation, literally EVERY other football play, when executed correctly, is designed to score a touchdown. It takes EVERYONE to do their job for success. I believe that football is therefore the ultimate team sport. Oh and don’t even compare it to the other football…
My Brief Career
In my life I learned a lot by being around the game. I remember vividly begging the coach to put me in as a QB in the 7th grade only to throw my first pass for a touchdown – to the other team! I then remember being a running back for a couple of plays only to be shut down at the line of scrimmage or behind it time after time. Finally the coach moved me to the line (center, etc.) and then eventually the Tight End. Even though I was big and slow, I could catch. Our St. Pat’s teams were so bad that our poor QB (my good buddy Steve Casey for most of my brief career), could rarely get any throws out, but I did catch the balls thrown to me…all 3 of them.
What was funny about my parochial team league was that most of those boys I played against went on to the only Catholic high school in Spokane, Gonzaga Prep. They became classmates and some became friends as we all headed to high school.
Once I got to Prep, even though I loved the game, we were then WA state runner ups (lost in the state title game to a couple of future UW Huskies from Puyallup HS that I got to know a few years later) so I lacked the confidence that I could play with those guys. I was big but I wasn’t very strong and was frankly embarrassed to go the weight room because I couldn’t lift very much and didn’t realize that there were a ton of other guys my age in the same boat. Nevertheless I personally hung up my cleats and started a work study program at Prep where I could be a student manager and “work off” some of my tuition. I loved it.
That 4-year experience was great. Our team was great the first two years and stunk my junior and senior years. Our class would later joke that “well at least we had so many valedictorians…” as for some reason our class didn’t have the studs needed to repeat the year-after-year success Prep had throughout the history of high school football in Spokane and especially in the 80s. Sure the student manager job was kind of a nerdy position and even though I got to know a lot of older guys as a freshman (which was cool), I never was back on the field, even though I loved everything about it.
After high school, Coach Pedersen got me a job at the UW. He tracked me down one spring day of my senior year and told me that there was a job for the then defending national champ Washington Huskies if I wanted. They would even pay me! I interviewed and took the job over the phone and in August of 1992, drove my dads lime green pick up out of Spokane and to Seattle where I experienced football on the biggest of stages. Highlights were the first game (first college game ever for me), against Wisconsin where they hoisted the National Championship banner and the nexts week for the first night game in Husky stadium history, against the mighty Cornhuskers of Nebraska. It was AWESOME. I got to go to Miami for the ‘whammy in Miami,” Ohio State where I discovered what a buckeye actually was (and grabbed one from a tree planted for each All American they had – I think one of my sons now has it), and all of the PAC-10 schools. I ate, I got gear, free tickets, and was around for 2 PAC-10 championships (a ring believe it or not) and a few friends. It was fun to be a part of it, to watch guys like Hobert, Brunell, Bruener, Kaufman, Kennedy, a couple of Huards, and a host of others make it to Sunday’s and play some long, and some short careers in the NFL.
Along the way, I always appreciated what these boys who were becoming men went through. They didn’t like practice, but the did it. They didn’t like the rain, but they practiced and played hard anyway. They didn’t like that nasty turf of the time, but they persevered. They played hard, had coaches barking at them constantly and continued to work. They had a common goal, to win, and they knew they needed each other. Outside of the military they say, there is probably nothing like it.
Football as a Parent
As I got older, got married, got a job and all that, my then-wife didn’t appreciate the game the way I did. I lost touch for a bit and during that time in the late 90s and then early 2000s, we didn’t have a lot going on in Seattle for football. The Seahawks had there worst stretch since their first handful of seasons and the Huskies were down a bit too so football wasn’t a huge priority, although I was always watching the seasons unfold you could say, out of the corner of my eye.
Being a dad made football relevant again. Remember that opening scene in Rudy where the kids were playing in the snow and then went in to watch football on the floor with their dad? That was me. Our home allowed for Notre Dame and WSU football. That was basically it. My dad was that dad and I was that kid. I had a similar experience with my sons. First my oldest son, Nate. He was Rudy and I was then that dad but WSU of course was swapped out for UW. We watched two teams in our home on Saturdays, the Huskies and Irish. We also watched the Seahawks on Sundays. Those memories of watching those teams then, and now with my youngest son Lochlan, are precious.
The only thing that made it better was when Nate (and his brothers behind him) begged me to play football. At the little Catholic grade school they attended, one of the guys I got to know at O’Doherty’s Irish Pub where I had to moonlight as a server when the housing part of the economy hit the skids, had co-founded a flag football league for 3rd and 4th grade kids before they were old enough to play tackle football for their parochial school. Nate wanted to play and I of course let him. Nate played for one year under a coach and then I coached him his 4th grade year and then coached Austin, my 2nd born son, in the same sport. Those fall days were awesome. Several of those boys I coached went on to play great high school football, mostly at Prep in Spokane, and we moved back to the Seattle area in 2010 so Nate at ECHS.
Flag led to tackle football and I loved every minute watching my boys played, first at All Saints, then Newport Juniors (Nate) and ultimately the Eastside Crusader youth program and of 2 out of the oldest 3, the high school team.
I loved what football brought out of my sons. Lessons, every day. Lessons on attitude, overcoming adversity, getting along with people (kids and adults) you don’t like or care for, having a common goal (winning), and the camaraderie they all ended up learning and experiencing. Nate and Austin made lifelong friends because of their involvement in football, friendships that were tested through sweat, cold, sickness, pain, and again overcoming.
Nate ended up going to 3 state championship games, winning 2. Austin played freshman and sophomore years until he hurt his shoulder and then continued in a role now known in the family, as a student manager. Jackson stopped playing after youth football and focused on acting and band where he now played the tuba for his high school in the same football field he and his brothers played on. It is strangely just as rewarding. The band and the cheerleaders are a HUGE part of the pageantry that is football, IMO.
By no means is this exhaustive. People of written about football extensively, the good and the bad. There are books about how one my main guys Teddy R saved football, while others argued for football’s importance for a host of other reasons and still others focus on the history (think NFL films) and the glory, my reasons are a combination of all of that, my own experience, and now as a father. Football, to me, is all of this. The sweat, the grind, the weather, the attitude, the people, the resilience, the overcoming, the pageantry, the wins and losses, being a player, coach and fan, but ultimately my favorite part is the Family element. From the playground field at All Saints, to the frozen “tundra” of St. Charles to the turf of Newport, EC and all of the visiting fields. Wearing the shorts, then the sweatshirts, then the coat, stocking cap and gloves as a parent watching your kids play. Every fall I find myself thinking of all of it. It all matters.