Some moments you just don’t forget. Maybe you don’t remember a thing from ten days before or ten days after, but some moments in time remain with you through the years. And maybe how you remember it years down the road doesn’t quite match with how what really happened, but the impression and feeling that you had then stays the same. For one reason or another, some moments just mean a lot.
For some reason I remember a brief moment in time from when I was around five or six years old. I remember sitting with my family in our parent’s bedroom. As my family has always done when time allows, we were sitting together watching television. Now we sit around a 46 inch plasma screen. Then, we watched a television with a screen smaller than the computer I’m typing on. And we were watching football. Something happened in the game and for some reason I cheered in excitement. I remember my dad smiling, turning toward my mother and saying, “This might be the year that Peter gets into football.” Unsure of what he meant, and, being an excitable youngster, I asked my dad, “You mean PLAY football?” He replied, “No, I mean like understand it. Like it.” “Oh.” I said, disappointed I wasn’t playing football.
And that’s where the memory stops. I don’t remember anything else from that day. I probably don’t remember anything from that week. But I remember that moment in time.
More or less, my father was right. Starting around that time, football became my passion. I would play in the living room, by myself or with my little brother. I would run route after route in the game-room of our church as my dad tossed me nerf balls. My brother and I punted the ball back and forth and tackled each other in the back yard until he got bored or got mad. I confined myself to the computer room for hours and hours (and hours) playing Madden (goodness I wasted a lot of my childhood on computer games). I dreamed of playing in the NFL. *sigh* the NFL. What a wonder it was to me. That war always waged inside me as September approached: The NFL is going to be back! And I have to go back to school….
Basically, I was the typical football-loving youth. I would have been great in any sort of television ad featuring football fans. I was in love with what I thought was the greatest sport in the world.
My dreams of playing football never took off. Despite the fact that I was (and am) quite swift and agile, and happen to have a pretty decent throwing ability, I have a diminutive build. My dad didn’t ever sign me up, and looking back I wonder if I wasn’t actually a little relieved back then that he didn’t. At one time, playing football professionally was all I wanted to do. As it turns out, I have never played a real game of football.
But I still had the NFL. As I would say then, “I like football. I love the NFL.” My greatest love in sports (and most of life) was the Indianapolis Colts, and my favorite player was Peyton Manning (maybe someday I’ll write a full article really describing my years of following Manning. Might be tough to bring a fresh perspective though since so much has been written about him).
My love of the Colts and the NFL carried strong straight through high school until the second semester of my senior year, following the Colts 2-14 season with Manning out for the year. Then Manning was released from the Colts. A storm began to gather in my sports world. Let’s take stock of where I was at that moment in fandom.
1. Basketball had become my favorite sport to play. No problem with that. There are plenty of places in the United States where basketball is the primary sport in place of football.
2. Marquette basketball was my favorite sports team. Also nothing wrong with that.
3. I no longer had an NFL team that I lived and died with. Dungy and Manning were gone from Indy and transferring loyalties to Denver for the 5-7 years left in Manning’s career didn’t make much sense
4. I had written earlier that year about the fall of baseball. The national trend of decreased interest in the sport was happening inside me as well, as I cared less and less about pro baseball.
5. I had also written earlier that year about how I believed soccer was starting to rise in the United States and how I was personally gaining interest. I didn’t have a favorite team yet.
6. Despite my declining interest in the Colts, I had devoted most of my blog posts to football that past fall and had no regrets. It’s the NFL for crying out loud. My love.
7. I had never heard the letters C, T, and E, arranged together in an acronym.
Then last fall happened. As a Colts fan, the season ebbed and flowed. For the early part of the season, I struggled to shake off the slumber I had fallen into the season before, when I had eventually accepted the fact that the Colts were terrible to ease the pain of seeing them go 2-14. So when they actually started winning games, I watched with kind of a half-amused smile. And sprinkled throughout the season there were moments of true pride (seeing Reggie Wayne destroy the Packers in a great comeback win) and others of pure joy (I was legitimately thrilled when Andrew Luck led yet another comeback and beat the Lions). Yet, when the Colts lost to the Ravens in the playoffs, my day wasn’t ruined. Chalk it up to maturity or the fact that the entire season seemed like they were playing with house money and had the magical Chuckstrong impact, but for some reason their loss to the Ravens didn’t bother me that much.
The NFL, however, was suffering. The replacement refs were actually the least of its concerns. Bountygate, rule changes, arrests, lawsuits, concussions, Junior Seau, and Jovan Belcher swirled together to make the state of the NFL one of turmoil. And perhaps the greatest problem the NFL faced was within the nature of the game itself. Football was finally being revealed as the danger that it truly was. The common fan was becoming aware of not only the fact that hit-stick tackles and truck-stick runs could cause brain damage, but that perhaps the most dangerous risk to player safety was the numerous smaller hits they would take throughout a career.
And so I found that my love of football wasn’t the same. I would go through some Sunday afternoons without watching a game. I would consider the bleak future of the game. I would prefer basketball any day of the week. I wouldn’t find the joy I used to have. But I thought that was just me. Admittedly, I’m sort of a hipster (I don’t do hipster things. I just have a kind of hipster mentality towards sports, music, movies, and other sorts of things. I like to be different. Seriously though, I’m not a hipster). And it makes sense that some of my joy would be gone from football due to my decreased love of the Colts.
Some other strange thing happened that fall. I became a soccer fan. Mostly an Everton soccer fan, but also a burgeoning fan of the Beautiful Game. About 13 months ago I wrote a quite popular post about the beginning of this fandom after the 2012 Merseyside Derby. This morning, after over a year of fandom, I watched this year’s edition of the Derby at Goodison. This time around, I had a much better understanding of what I was watching. I understood more about the game and the league. I had watched a number of Everton’s games this year. I knew the players and their tendencies. And both times Romelu Lukaku scored this morning, first to tie and then to take the lead, I leaped out of my chair and went absolutely nuts. To put this in perspective, I had not gotten that animated during a sporting contest since Vander Blue’s game-winning layup vs. Davidson in the tournament sent me running around the halls of my dorm shouting all sorts of unintelligible things about my euphoria (for the record, that is the most joy I have ever shown. Even more than when I beat the god of Super Smash Bros).
Over a year in and my fandom for Everton and soccer is continuing to get stronger. I don’t take the time to watch many games not featuring Everton, but when I do I enjoy it. This morning I watched some of Arsenal vs. Southampton and Chelsea vs. West Ham United and enjoyed it more than watching a football game featuring teams I don’t care about.
As happens so often with my blog-writing, we reach a “So what?” I tell you a story about sports, sometimes using personal examples, and then I reach the part of the story where I finally tell you why this matters beyond my personal journal. Fascinating as I think my musings and opinions can be, this blog is commentary on sports and the way we watch them.
I’m writing this not only to tell you about how far my first sports love has fallen. Not just to update you on how much I love soccer. I’m writing this to tell you that, for the first time, I’m seeing other people lose their love too. Other people are seeing football crumble as well. Other people who aren’t hipsters. Who weren’t crushed by Manning’s release.
Rick Reilly wrote about how he is struggling to enjoy football now, mostly due to the concussion crisis and the stories we’re hearing about former players with terrible post-career effects on the brain. David Fleming wrote a time-capsule article to readers in 20 years after the demise of the NFL explaining how Week 9 (John Fox, Gary Kubiak, Martin/Incognito, injuries, Redskins name) would be looked back on as the beginning of the end. They weren’t alone.
So I wasn’t crazy. It wasn’t just me. While most fans tried to ignore (successfully or unsuccessfully) the brain-trauma crisis, there really were and are other sports fans (credible ones at that) who were seeing the same things I was. So maybe there are lots of other fans like me out there. Maybe others who tried to get past the dangers of the NFL are now also finally losing their interest in the game, but we don’t hear their story because they don’t have a personal sports blog. Maybe the perfect storm of the NBA’s new golden age and the fall of baseball have created the perfect storm for futbol to replace football as the fall’s most popular sport.
Well, hold up. That’s going too far. Football is still king, and soccer is yet a long way off. But the World Cup is coming. The EPL is on NBC. And football isn’t getting clear of the storm anytime soon. Last year we could ignore the problems and hope for the magic helmet. Now? We have to accept we love a game where players like Eric Winston can admit, “I’ve already kinda come to the understanding that I won’t live as long because I play this game, and that’s okay, that’s a choice I’ve made and a choice all of us have made.” A game where Donte Whitner defiantly roams the secondary looking for the brain-rattling hits. Where Brandon Merriwhether gets off easy and then vows to end careers. Where coaches work themselves to the brink of death. Where bullying is tolerated, accepted, and encouraged. Where your favorite player is one strange tackle from a serious injury. And where sometimes, when those players get hurt, fans cheer.
How much fun can a game be when it puts your life in danger? When those who write about it lose their joy in it? When hit-sticks and truck-sticks are illegal in real life? When the media relays every story about a drill sergeant coach, a dead high school player, and the like?
And when there’s a game that’s as ridiculously entertaining as soccer?
Not everyone is going to like soccer. But the more people watch, the more people are going to realize how wrong their misconceptions were. The more they’re going to notice the beauty in the game. The more they’ll see its true ballerness. The more they’ll love and hate watching Luis Suarez.
My musings of the past years are coming to fruition, but they have not been fully realized yet. But someday, and perhaps someday soon, everyone will be like me. Perhaps we’ll watch football first become a local fan-based sport like baseball and hockey and fade to a brutish sport fallen from the spotlight to the shadows, much like boxing.
Maybe someday you’ll be able to say “football” in America and everyone will know you mean soccer.
You’re not me. You don’t stay up until midnight watching the end of a regular season game between the Mavericks and Rockets, enjoying every minute of it. You don’t decline to watch the Colts in favor of getting some exercise. You don’t wake up at 6:30 (on a Saturday) to watch Everton.
There are many moments in my sports-watching life that I remember, like that day all those years ago in front of that small television. I can’t identify one moment when all this began or when this all started, but I can see many contributing moments that moved this journey along and now I know where I am.
Just letting you know you might get here too.
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Soli Deo Gloria