Life Without Football

Life Without Football

When I got up this morning, I did check and see who had won yesterday’s game, not because I was really interested, you understand, just so I wouldn’t appear completely clueless when I went to school today and everyone, teachers as well as students, was talking about what happened last night in New Orleans.

I have to be honest. I really couldn’t care less about football.

I’m not really sure how my complete lack of interest in football came about. Probably, it had a lot to do with the fact that I had no brothers. My father, though he took me camping and fishing, built stonewalls with me and taught me how to wield a hammer, never thought to toss a football to me. He was almost forty years older than I was and in his generation playing football with girls was unthinkable.

I did try to be interested in football, half-heartedly, when I was in high school. I went to games with my friends on the weekends, I jumped up when everyone else did and tried to shout occasionally, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I hadn’t the faintest idea what they were doing out on the field and didn’t much care either. It would never have occurred to me to lose any sleep over whether our team won or lost, or whether we went through a season undefeated which, if memory serves me correctly, we did a few times.

When I went away to college, I was spared having to pretend that I was interested in football. I went to college in England where collegiate sports were not the big time industry they are here in the States and certainly no one was playing American football. I know this is hard to believe, but we mainly studied and drank at my university. Sports were kind of looked down upon. I remember a day the cricket team sauntered into the central campus square in their grass-stained whites after a match. The catcalls and sounds of hooting from the assembled students echoed off the walls of the square until the team, heads down, sheepishly disappeared into the campus pub.

When I was growing up, the only thing I knew about football was that it was not a good idea to walk in front of the television set when the men were watching a game. My mother should have known this, too, but somehow she did not. She was forever coming into the room and standing in front of the set asking my father to do some chore when she ought to have known it was impossible for him to leave his seat for the next six hours. I’m not at all sure why my mother was so clueless about this. She had had two brothers, large strong men, and both of them had played football. One of them had even started for Penn State. She should have at least understood the essential sacredness of the sport.

My father, who was not a big man, had also played football, for fun mostly, but also more seriously when he was in the Army. He was always muttering about football players nowadays being too specialized and too soft. No one could play both offense and defense anymore. No one could make it through a whole game. Back in the forties, when he had played, everyone could run and throw. It wasn’t necessary to be huge.

My father had been one of the first to get contacts in order to play football. I still have these contacts and as a former contact-wearer I can tell you that one look at them is enough to put you off your dinner. They are made of thick, hard, completely inflexible glass. Enormous ovals, they were made to go under both the upper and lower eyelids. Over the iris, the glass bulges out in a semi-sphere and according to my father that was where he would put the green wetting solution he had to use. But the best, or the worst, feature of these early lenses was the contraption my father used to get them out again. It was a small rubber implement and looked like a tiny bathroom plunger. You wet and then stuck the plunger end on the glass over your eye and pulled.

“But how could you stand to wear these things?” I asked.

“It did take some getting used to,” he admitted, “the first couple of times I could only keep them in for an hour or so. I had to work up to a whole game.”

I said that it seemed to me that wearing such lenses was far more dangerous for your eyes than wearing glasses could ever have been. What would happen if you got hit?

“It wasn’t so brutal back then,” he said, “players weren’t so big and we didn’t hit each other as hard.”

My first husband, who was big and had played football in the sixties for Brown and later the Marines, shared most of my father’s thoughts about the degradation of the game. He added to this a distinct distaste for the fans.

“Most of them haven’t a clue how the game works,” he would say to me, “Football is actually a fairly complicated sport. And the loudest ones are the ones who know the least.”

I didn’t know about that, since at his son’s high school football games, I was certainly the one spectator who knew the least and I never made a sound.

I was bored out of my mind at these games and actually spent a lot of time feeling sorry for my high school self who had thought she had to be interested. It was true that much of the shouting was pretty ridiculous. Mothers would shout, “Good  “D!!” multiple times at the tops of their lungs.

“That’s defense,” my ex-husband would explain to me wearily, “and that last defensive play wasn’t any good, it was a disaster.”

My ex-husband’s son pretty much thought he had to play football because his father had. He had asked for and received his father’s old number.

“He’s going to get injured,” my ex-husband predicted gloomily.

“How do you know?”

“Because he never hits anyone. They always hit him.”

“Don’t you get hurt just as much when you hit someone?”

“No, for some reason you never do.”

His son did get injured as it turned out, badly, and had to have knee surgery. He never played football again after that. He couldn’t. If you ask me, he was mightily relieved at that turn of events. It was as if he’d been honorably wounded in a war he’d not wanted to go to. He was finally out of it.

I think the game in which my then step-son was injured was the last football game I ever went to. That must be over twenty years ago now. For I finally figured out how to solve the football problem: the problem of being dragged to games you didn’t want to go to, the problem of the television being on all Saturday and Sunday and then on Monday night again.

When I re-married, I married a foreigner. He’s interested in rugby and Formula One, but not enough to turn on the television on a weekend. He much prefers chopping down trees in our woods. If he hadn’t been an engineer, he’d have been a lumberjack.

So last night we sat by the fire and read books. “You did what?” I can hear people asking, “Why it’s un-American!” Maybe so, but it was peaceful and quiet and no one got hurt. Perhaps we could think up some great American sport for that category.