My first real encounter with football was when my oldest son came flying into the house nearly 40 years ago to announce, “I can go out for football this year!”
My immediate response was to picture him walking out on the field to sacrifice his all for the old Alma Mater, and then of his being taken to the hospital in undetermined condition. They didn’t start in football as early as they do now, so I was quite unprepared when he looked at me soulfully and said, “I can go out, can’t I?”
Being a good and dutiful mother, I quickly decided it was up to his Dad to tell him no. “We’ll talk to your Dad about it.”
“Great!” he shouted, never suspecting that I had elected Dad to lower the boom.
Well, good old Dad lowered the boom – right on my head. “I think it’s probably good idea if he does,” Dad said. “He did start junior high this year.”
I quickly drew Dad a few verbal pictures of mayhem on the football field.
He replied with the logical argument that the boy would want to play football eventually, and it would be best to begin now when other boys his age were beginning and the emphasis was on safety and self-protection.
So our son went off to school the next day with his permission slip, signed by Dad, clutched in his hand.
He came home after school holding an old green rag. “My football pants,” he announced proudly. “You can sew them up for me, Mom,” he graciously offered, and then added, “Please be careful, don’t ruin them.” I finally managed to sew the ragged jigsaw puzzle into a pair of genuine football pants.
The next day he brought home an assortment of padding, a helmet, and a mouth guard. The mouth guard was a plastic house shoe arrangement which he had to boil until it was soft and then fit it go his mouth. It had a long, slender, plastic handle which extended in front of the face protector. “What happens if an opponent jerks on that,” I inquired, visualizing teeth all over the field.
“They get a 15-yard penalty,” he replied happily.
Finally he brought his jersey home. It was actually brand new and gleaming white with huge numbers on it. “New?” I asked incredulously.
He explained that each year they got a few new shirts, and since they ran out of the old ones just before they got to him so he was rewarded for waiting with a new shirt.
Finally he put on the whole outfit, and I wondered when he grew so tall. He looked down at me and said, “By the way, Mom, Coach said if my shirt gets a little dirty you can wash it for me. Just be sure to do it with the delicate stuff.”
So every afternoon after school our son would encase himself in his jersey and his plastic suit of armor and head for football practice.
“Be careful,” I would beg.
“Don’t worry,” he would answer.
“He won’t get hurt,” his Dad would assure me, “They’re all learning.”
As I said, that was almost 40 years ago. I had a few more encounters with football over the years, but until I discovered our local boy, Matt Light, and the New England Patriots, I was not a particularly dedicated fan.
Now I find myself watching the Patriots, the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Indianapolis Colts, Notre Dame and some other teams I know only by the color of their uniforms, cheering them on from my easy chair, and wondering if those players’ Moms are worried that their boys might get hurt.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Greenville Advocate on Oct. 3, 2007.