The hype starts young -- much younger than I expected. I've seen posters for Pee Wee football for six-year-olds which blew my mind. But this year my son's soccer coach announced that instead of resuming soccer this fall, he was forming a football team. As it turns out, our city has football leagues that start as early as age four. (Of course, it's flag football at this young age, thank goodness!)
As much as my son loves sports, I was never in any hurry to introduce him to football, because it is so hyper-competitive in our area. However, soccer and baseball were great experiences for him, and I became comfortable moving into the world of football only because his football coach was the same one who worked with him through several seasons of soccer and baseball, and his team was comprised of the same kids who played these sports with him. They have a good team dynamic, and our coach has a great style: motivational and positive and challenging without high pressure. And flag football for five-year-olds isn't doesn't have all the fervor of Texas high school football. It's actually pretty fun.
My son plays for the Titans. His jersey looks like it comes from Tennessee, but it's not like we're an official training camp or anything like that. (It reminds me of when my son's t-ball team was called the Yankees, and they were outfitted in miniature New York Yankees attire. One game, as he fielded in the pitching position, I couldn't help but think giddily to myself..."Now pitching for the Yankees...MY SON!")
Instead of "Friday Night Lights", we meet under Saturday morning sunshine for our games. There is a cheerleading league for girls the same age, so we have a handful of tiny cheerleaders, sporting "Titans" uniforms and pom-poms, at our games. They always make a big banner for the team to burst through at the beginning of the game. They recite little cheers and songs, and do a brief half-time "show", before breaking for snacks. (It's always nice to see that they haven't developed eating disorders yet.) My son, who has already become aware of cute girls, likes the cheerleaders but is too shy to take a picture with them.
There's a real referee in stripes, and older kids who run around with the orange chains that are used to measure first downs. I figure we are merely a scoreboard, a marching band, a nacho peddler, and a beer commercial away from becoming a flag version of the NFL.
But it's fun. After his second practice, my son said he didn't like football. He wanted to go back to soccer. He didn't think he was any good at football. There's a natural life analogy: none of us likes change. We prefer our comfort zones. We bristle at new challenges. But after my son's first scrimmage, in which he scored a touchdown, he was hooked. He has football on the brain. Actually, as the only native Texan in our family (the rest of us are like the bumper sticker that says, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could."), maybe the love of this favorite Texas pastime was destined to finally surface. (It reminds me of the scene in Gone With the Wind, where Gerald O'Hara is telling Scarlett that she'll grow to love Tara, because it's in her blood.)
The game is fun to watch, and my son's newfound enthusiasm is infectious. At his first game, when it was his turn to be a running back and he was a blur, taking the ball more than twenty yards, I became one of those crazy moms on the sidelines, screaming and cheering and trying to capture my special little blur on camera. Now I have football on the brain, too (what's left of it, at least)!
When we were in Utah, my son had the opportunity to attend a BYU football game with my dad. Now his goal is to play football for the BYU Cougars someday. Having graduated from BYU myself, I'm certainly supportive of that goal. :) I hope I'm here when he does it. When I speak of such things, people will sometimes say in a soft, reverent tone, "of course you will be", which sometimes reflects optimism about my longevity, and sometimes reminds me of that sappy 70's Kenny Star song about The Blind Man in the Bleachers:
And when the game was over the coach asked him to tell
What was it he was thinkin' of that made him play so well
"Well, you knew my Dad was blind", he said, "Tonight he passed away"
"It's the first time that my father's seen me play"
I KNOW - yes, LaVell Edwards Stadium would definitely become a haunted site, if it came to that. But whether I get to see my son working toward his Heisman in the flesh or otherwise, it's nice to have the opportunity to see him now, that blur on the field, with the cheerleaders and the fans, under the Saturday morning lights.