Sunday, September 28, 2008

Thoughts from the Sideline

fall 2007

It's the first game of the season, the first game my three little brothers have ever played. Never in my life have I watched a football game, but sisterly affection mandates attendance at this one.

Now if only I understood football!

I get baseball. No sweat (unless you happen to be playing). 3 strikes and you’re out. 4 balls and you walk. 3 bases to home. Peanuts and popcorn and Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Cardinal red and Albert Pujols and Busch Stadium. Simple.

But football baffles me. Why do these little boys need faux muscles? Whose idea was that? Why is the ball shaped so funny, and why is it swathed in pigskin? Why do young American males find the process of ramming others so lucrative?

I still remember my first encounter with football. We were living in Europe at the time, and Dad decided to turn on the American football game while Mom finished the preparations for Thanksgiving dinner. I was three years old.

I entered the den and found Dad relaxing in his big blue chair as a huge pile of perspiring men rolled over each other on the grass. I was decidedly disturbed. The man at the bottom of the heap was the recipient of my deepest consolations, and I wondered why his wife let him do that.


Here, the setting looks a lot like “Facing the Giants.” Only the boys are younger and I’m relatively certain that nothing too miraculous will occur tonight.

Yet somehow I can’t manage to keep my eyes on the game for five seconds straight. It’s merely one endless swarm of little boys, running in all directions.

But there are so many interesting things happening around me! On my left, a young father is dumping formula powder into a baby bottle held by his wife (wow, how does their poor child manage to drink the stuff?). The woman on my right has a beautiful wedding ring. The girl beside me is trying way too hard to be cool. Behind me, a mother is whining, “Shannon, who do love more? Daddy or me?” And there are people here with names like BJ and CJ and Buddy…

Suddenly everyone is screaming and yelling. I look up just in time to see my little brother sprint easily across a white line, football in hand. The other players follow at a distance.

Behind me, Dad rejoices. “He scored his first touchdown!

Hmm. I’m guessing that’s a good thing.

I turn my attention back to the crowd. A few feet away, several parents are trying to remember what the team’s name is. The lady with the ring is getting a shoulder massage from her husband. Behind me, a group of school-aged boys are tossing dust in the air. I watch a toddler pour coffee over the front of her blouse; she cocks her head, looks at me, and snickers with joy as it dribbles toward her stomach. I giggle with delight at the antics of a darling four year old boy.

Abigail nudges me.

Isn’t he cute?!

He pulls a worm out of the grass and dangles it in front of his nose. It wiggles itself into curls, and he throws back his head and laughs heartily.

What amazing dimples!

Abigail and I agree that we want to go over and hug him. I bite the end of my pen and wish I could take him home.

Suddenly there is another yell, and I glance up quickly. One of my brothers has fallen. From nowhere, bodies begin to accumulate on top of him. I pull in my breath and gasp.


How dare they?

Oh, good. They’re finally getting off.

The boys line up in two rows and face each other. Wow, that looks intimidating. A man shouts and each side charges like crazed buffalo. Bodies clash.

That must be an odd feeling.

GO SARAH!” the coach hollers. I stiffen. There’s a little girl out there with all those boy monsters? Poor thing.

A woman nearby asks me what my brother’s jersey number is. Ouch. I should probably know that.

Somebody says something about ‘half-time.’ That’s an interesting concept. My valiant little brother runs over to say hello. I watch him lick his lips and swipe the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. Wow, that’s totally endearing.

One of the boys on the team is having trouble getting his helmet off. His head looks a little too large to fit through. Yikes!

A young father hands his son a Gatorade. The child’s mother, confined to a wheelchair, gives her boy a kiss and sends him back to war. Awww. That’s charm, I tell you.

Looks like ‘half-time’ is over. The little warriors face each other and make ominous grunting noises. My brothers’ team slaps their legs in perfect harmony. Intimidation at its finest.

Distracted, I turn my attention back to the crowd. A toothless old man and a toddler are laughing together. Wow. Where’s my camera when I need it?

Finally another shout. The game seems to be over. My brother high-fives his teammates and gallantly makes his way back to us. What a perfect little man. I love that messy hair, and the way he itches the back of his head is simply marvelous.

And oh, the sheepish grin! Heartwarming.

Half an hour later, we all pile into the suburban for the long drive home. I grab a book and settle back to relax.

A sudden curiousity grips me. I straighten up and twist around to better view the three sweaty boys in the back row.

“Skip, who won that game?”

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