It's only a game

This is a story I didn’t know if I would ever tell because it does not have a happy ending.

However, a couple of recent events have got me thinking about it again. First of all, my youngest son decided he didn’t want to play football anymore, mid-season. Normally I like my kids to see their commitments through, which is why I insisted they finish their t-ball seasons and if they didn’t want to re-enlist in cub scouts, I wouldn’t make them. Not signing up again is not the same as quitting. However, with football, if your heart isn’t in it, you can get hurt. So, I let him quit, but I made him face the coaches and team and tell them himself. As we were leaving the field, I cried all the way to the car. “What’s wrong, Mom?”

“I don’t know, honey. It’s only a game, right?” But I did know. It was because he wasn’t fulfilling my dreams for him, and I knew how ridiculous that was, and I didn’t want to burden him with it. I just wanted him to be happy.

The other event that triggered the need to tell the untold story is the poor sportsmanship of a football team that my oldest son played against recently. They’re a good football team, no doubt about it, everybody knows it. They beat us. By a lot. But were the raucous insults the fans slung at us from the other side really necessary? It’s only a game, people.

The unhappy-ending story is about the time one previous season when I had the opportunity to stand behind “enemy lines” during an afternoon football game.

That day I was “Playcounter: opposing side.” That meant I had to go and hang around with the person counting plays for the other team. Depending on the size of the teams, each of the players on the roster has to have a certain number of plays every game. You can help figure out who’s on the field (if needed) or just verify that the Playcounter is checking off names during every play, except kick return and extra points. The guy I was working with that day had a pretty good system, which was color coded by special teams, offense, and defense, and each of the teams had a mini roster, so if Head Coach called out “Eagle Five” (not the real name), a certain set of players would run out on the field, as listed on the color coded key. Clever. So, I really didn’t have to do much of anything. I made a little small talk (what number is your son, do your other kids play sports, and so on), but very little, because when you’re hanging around in that situation, not only is small talk unimportant, but also I wanted to be sure I didn’t divulge anything I shouldn’t. I had mentioned to Playcounting Dude that I didn’t think we’d ever played their team before, and he concurred, it was the first time. I asked how their record was. “Four and two.” “Hey, that’s great, I have to confess I don’t know what ours is.” “Three and three,” he informed me. I cringed and actually clamped my hand over my mouth to keep from saying anything else.

I was thinking about the game our team had played the week before, which was a terrible loss, and I hoped the team morale had recovered enough by then. Surely this team had heard about that as well, if they knew our record. They probably knew about all of our plays, too, and which of our players they should double team.

Apparently they did not know.

It seemed that they expected to run roughshod all over us. Instead, the opposite happened. We had a few plays that just worked, and we repeated them, and they worked again. And again. I was able to refrain from clapping and cheering the first time, but not so much the second or third or subsequent times. I apologized to Playcounting Dude. He said that’s okay. I replied, “Yeah, I guess if your team did that you’d be cheering, too. You have to admit, it was a great play.” He did have to admit, just as I had acknowledged their good plays, many of which involved their quarterback, who happened to be his son.

It soon became clear to me that what I thought was “only a game” was much more serious to all the coaches from the other team. The coaches began swearing, including Playcounting Dude, though he did apologize. I told him I’d heard those words before. They used up all their time outs in the first half. I had hoped we’d get everyone’s plays in before the half, so I wouldn’t have to go back to that side; it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. But there were about five guys who still needed plays. So, after the half I went back.

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