For many people the Labor Day holiday marks the end of summer. For my family it signals the long-awaited kick-off of football season.
I seldom watch or follow football; I can name a handful of players but only for their fumbles off the field. Yet I’m a fan of the game thanks to its 17-week schedule that unites my family like a team.
My husband played football growing up in Pittsburgh. An injury in high school permanently sidelined him and soon after he relocated to California, but he maintains an unwavering loyalty to his hometown team.
When our boys traded Cartoon Network for ESPN they were inducted into Steeler Nation and football fandom. Naturally, my husband viewed Monday Night Football as an opportunity to sharpen our sons’ mathematical skills. Every Monday we’d each predict the winner of the game and the person with the most wins when the season ended won a cash prize.
Today we still observe our Monday night tradition. My husband and sons spend countless hours analyzing data and statistics. I’ve kept my same strategy throughout the years. I find the two teams playing and then choose the team to win based on which city I’d rather visit. I’m proud to report I often win the money.
Aside from football connecting our family, my boys keep in contact with friends attending colleges across the country through their fantasy football leagues. Although it’s a fantasy league, the billion-dollar phenomenon is fantastically real to them.
Weeks ago, shopping with my younger son for dorm supplies, he read a text and exclaimed, “Oh no!” Startled, I asked what happened. Looking deflated, he replied, “My running back tore his ACL and he’s out.”
I realize as time marches forward our family will spend more time apart than together. It’s a fact I try to ignore, but it’s in the play book. Since both boys have flown from the nest and settled into comfortable college housing I seek occasions to reunite our team.
As my boys build their own busy lives it’s increasingly difficult to coordinate family gatherings, but I’ve found if a gridiron is involved they’re always available. Soon we’re traveling to see the Steelers play.
I’m tagging along but skipping the game. The tickets cost more than a designer handbag—which I find infinitely more exciting. Also, I lose interest after the coin toss and can’t contribute to conversations about downs, yards or punts.
Together, we’ll attend our first college game of the season during Family Weekend in October. In the meantime I rely on texts and, if I’m lucky, phone calls to keep in touch with my sons. I text them chatty messages and get back monotonous cartoon faces or emoji hearts.
My husband doesn’t text often, but recently texted our sons about the start of the season and received animated phone calls about coaches, countdowns and competitions.
I understand—football is fun, and it gives them an outlet from exams and budgets to debate. And, unlike tackling trendy topics like popular music or blockbuster movies, football spans generations and strengthens their father-son bonds.
While my football knowledge is limited to the movie The Blind Side or stories popping-up in People magazine, I understand the impact of college football. For freshman students the first six weeks of college is a crucial adjustment period, and it can be an isolating and overwhelming time. College game day creates a sense of belonging; football connects students as they crowd stadiums to cheer together.
Universities strategically schedule Family Weekend at the end of the critical six week period and it’s no coincidence the main event usually involves football. Next month we’re signed-up for both a tailgate barbecue and the big game.
We’ll sport our team colors, cram into the stadium with hordes of students and parents, and root for our college team. The view from my seat won’t matter. Instead of focusing on the field my attention is set on the stands and huddling together with my hometown team—that’s my game plan.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband and two sons for the past 14 years. She’s a freelance writer and contributor to the SC Times since 2006.