CHICAGO, November 4, 2012 — I was a relative latecomer to football. My dad was musical, not athletic, and the rest of us were girls. But a long-term relationship with a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan brought new meaning to “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” and I decided to try to figure out this football thing.
You can tell a lot about a man by the way he answers questions during his game. Start by making your presence known. Ask a question. It doesn’t matter what question because he won’t hear it. He’ll reply with something along the lines of “Huh?”
Now comes a moment of truth. You ask again. Since he has acknowledged that you’re there, he pretty much has to answer. But he doesn’t have to be nice. Is his tone annoyed? Superior? Or possibly welcoming? This tone may or may not transfer over to the rest of the relationship, but it will give you a clue as to whether you really want to be part of his football life.
What’s A Down?
I got lucky. My “What’s a down?” and every football question asked in the ensuing years has become a respectful teaching moment for the two of us. And it’s a good thing, too, because this tone does not always transfer over to the rest of our relationship. But we get along wonderfully on Sunday. At least In fall.
That original “What’s a down?” was asked almost 29 years ago, back before the stresses of marriage, kids and almost three decades of togetherness. That’s a long time, but I always knew he’d be loyal. He’s a Packers fan. We live in Chicago.
Not only is that a loyal person, that’s a nonconformist. That’s someone who stands by his beliefs in the face of ridicule. Often to the point of being ridiculous. That’s someone whose political beliefs I probably should have looked into a little closer before the “Till death do us part” part. Oh, well. We get along wonderfully on Sunday. And he doesn’t vote.
When our boys were old enough to pay attention, football shone a light on their personalities as well. Dad and Dad Jr. were close from the minute Jr. was born. Dad was the only one who could calm the colic in the evenings. They explored museums together and have enjoyed many a late-night fishing expedition. Jr. is a Packers fan.
Son #2 was born with a beautiful dimple and a stubborn temper. He didn’t care whether he went to the museum with the other two men in the house or not. He’s not into fishing. At about the age of 5, he flat-out said “I don’t want to be another Dad.” In a house full of Packers gear, Son #2 is a Bears fan. Who’d have thought that a Chicago Packers fan would be the conformist and the Chicago Bears fan would be the rebel?
Both boys, however, answer all of mom’s football questions (if not her questions about homework and what they were up to last night) with patience. And yes, even after 29 years, Mom still has questions. It’s not entirely my fault, though. They keep changing the rules! Seriously, you hit a guy in the chest hard enough that his head snaps forward and his helmet hits yours, and you get called for helmet-to-helmet contact? Seriously? His helmet hit you!
Goals Are Not Easy to Reach
Which brings us from what football says about us to what it’s teaching the kids about life. It isn’t always fair. Just when you figure out the rules, somebody changes them. Sometimes you fight with all you’ve got, and you still lose. Etc, etc, etc….
If my boys learn one life-lesson from watching football, let it be that the goal has to be fought for, and it will not be easy. No matter what your goal, even if it’s only 100 yards away, there are going to be people trying to stop you. Sometimes you can get around them; sometimes you can pass right over them. Sometimes they will stop you. Then you take a breath, re-group, and try again.
The path to your goal will rarely, if ever, be a straight line. Those running backs who get 100 yards per game probably ran 150. Sometimes you run sideways, sometimes diagonally. Sometimes you have to drop back to move forward. Sometimes you get sacked. It’s frustrating. It hurts. Take a breath, re-group, and try again.
When that goal is in sight, take every chance you get to fight for it. Maybe you’ll get there, maybe you won’t. Either way, you will be better prepared next time. And there will be a next time. Maybe not for this particular goal, but there will be another. And if it’s important, you will have to fight for it.
The youngest of those three kids is a teenager now. A few Sundays ago, she wandered into the living room and, with a hint of resignation in her voice, asked “What’s a down?” Her dad was asleep on the couch. Her brothers moaned (the older-brother version of rolling their eyes). Her mom beamed. Time for the girl to start learning about football. And if the patience her brothers show Mom doesn’t quite reach to Little Sister yet, it’s ok. They’re still learning, too.
Besides, Mom’s got this one covered.
Julia Goralka cheers for both the Packers and the Bears, unless they’re playing each other. Then it just depends on who in the family is annoying her least. Loyalty has its limits.
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