It’s no secret: I hate football. As in the NFL theme song spikes my blood pressure by twenty on first note. While I hate it for how it takes up my TV-time [we are a one TV household], the violence, and the droning screams of the fans, I mostly hate it because it seems absolutely pointless. A bunch of big dudes fighting other big dudes for a leather ball. Why does this game make little boys cry and some lucky big boys millionaires? Why do people paint their bodies crimson and tattoo the mascots onto their arms? Why does it matter?
I went to my first real football game today to support K and his intense love of the South Carolina Gamecocks and my jaw dropped upon entering the stadium. While I knew at a stadium capacity of 70K there would be thousands of folks, its one thing to know and a completely different thing to see such a mass of humanity some young, some old, some with shirts spouting biblical urgency and others with slogans better left unwritten and yet, all there for a common purpose.
Well, sort of. Opposing purposes is more like it as one half wanted the other half to lose, badly. I watched as some teammates on both teams kneeled, eyes closed in desperate prayer before kickoff and wondered if God is granting wins how does He pick between equally fervent requests? It amazed me the passion, the screaming until voices went hoarse, the tears [oh yes, so many tears] over victory and the lack thereof. And while some of it can be attributed to inebriation [I believe it was K, me, and kids under five who were sober at the game] the passion was at its root for the game, for the teams they loved so sincerely.
And yet how arbitrary this love is.
Nebraska fans are fans because they grew up there, or got accepted to college there, not any particular merit of the team and same goes for any other team under the sun [mostly, K is a redskins fan despite no proximity geographic or otherwise to the greater DC area]. Steve Spurrier coaches at SC because they offered him a job. He cared just as deeply for Florida when coaching the Gators. He’d get a tattoo of a corn on the cob if he was hired to coach Nebraska. His love and passion is arbitrary as is the love and passion of nearly everyone there.
But does arbitrariness mean insincerity or a love less worthy?
Most of what we hold most dear to us is a circumstance of where we were and who is around. I love my son because I believe him amazing and also because well, he’s the child God gave me. I will stand by my siblings through anything because I believe them exceptional and beautiful people and also because they’re mine and the same blood courses through our veins. I’m a raving fan of Zaxby’s because I like the chicken and relaxing atmosphere but also because in our previous suburb the eating options were slim. I think my local farmer’s market is the bees knees but I’d probably feel different if my home was in the Noe Valley or by the Embarcadero clear across the country. I’m nor saying we only love certain things because its all we know, but I’m saying that in our lives we love certain things for reasons beyond carefully considered reason and more from a gut feeling, a subjective love that comes from a place perhaps not fully logical but true and sincere nonetheless and not worthy of my condescension.
At the game it amazed me– so many people so fully vested in this one game from the the fans who spent thousands in travel, tickets and board, to the band members, referees, mascot, camera crew, doctors, conductors, water boys, cheerleaders, coaches, and teammates all in it for the sake of the team and in the same exact breath all in it for themselves and only themselves because each person had something no matter how large or how small at stake and each person had a measure of glory at that game.
Football, I realized today, is in some ways, a small scale version of life. You win some, you lose some. There’s ‘good’ guys and ‘bad’ guys [and who is who depends on which side of the field you stand]. You struggle, you cheer, you worry, you yell, and then ultimately, its over.
Until today I wondered what the point of it was but questioning that is questioning the point of living on this earth and enjoying almost anything. Who am I to judge why one person would rather watch a football game than read a work of fiction, or watch a film, or bike around a lake? And while you won’t see me wearing a rooster on my head and screaming at the television screen anytime soon, I do finally understand the love of a game. Football matters, because it matters to people. It matters because it does. I finally understand.