Since I was a sixth grader, football has confused me. Back then I pretended to care and even stayed up to watch the Redskins win the Superbowl so that I could discuss the game in detail with my friends at school. In high school, I went to football games but was secretly memorizing all the dance moves of the poms and cheerleaders. I longed for half-time so that I could finally be entertained. I went to zero footballs games as a Terrapin and one basketball game during my five years in college. Then I moved in with my love oblivious to the fact that I was moving in with the biggest football fan on this planet. So big is he that when we lived in New England, he would go to watch Redskins game at sports bars even alone sometimes. While I realized this is normal behavior for most sports fans, I was sure I was losing my then fiance to a world I didn’t even understand.
So our life went on, me hating all things football and teasing him endlessly about his team that couldn’t seem to catch a break and win consecutive games in a season. I even took my Kindle to a Superbowl party once. During all the tormenting and irreverent comments, he stood by me and accepted all the artsy fartsy ideas that I dreamt up and sometimes forced him to participate in. We knew our differences and had accepted them over the years. He watched football on Sundays, Mondays, and any other night that his team played; I went shopping, wrote in my journal, locked myself in our second bedroom, binge watched Portlandia, and cooked dinners. We were content in our places; I let go of the belief that loving football automatically meant meat-head. We found other things we had in common like Big Bang Theory, traveling, shopping, and finding new restaurants.
Our lives were in the happily-ever-after phase of the story. We had found a way to love each other in spite of this vital difference.
Then late August 2015, I was introduced to a little show called Friday Night Lights. PG had been on me for months to get into it and on this day one thing she texted me got me interested enough to hit play: “I know it’s about football, but it’s really about following your passions,” she had said. She knew the key to my soul. A show about making your dreams come true? I was in before I even hit play. So it began: Episode 1 Pilot; then right after Episode 2 “Eyes Wide Open”. I was hooked from the opening theme song. The country roads, the instrumental guitars, it was all so nostalgic. With each episode, I began to root for these Texas high school football players who were sometimes racist, sometimes drunk, and always bursting with passion.
The Pilot episode ended with a long 10-15 minutes of just playing football on the field and I remember thinking if this show has this much footage of just football, there’s no way I can continue. Then I watched the next episode and it did the same and the one after that too. What I didn’t realize at the time is that this show had tricked me into slowly understanding the game of football. Yes. I am 35 and had no idea what the rules were or that a completed pass, even if tackled was a positive in this game. It was the classic judge a book by its cover syndrome. With each season of Friday Night Lights, I began to see that the quarterback was a really smart person that he had to have killer instincts on reading the field. I saw that players put hard work on the field and off by memorizing plays to be successful at each game. I saw that winning was fun, but to these characters football was their ticket to conquer not only their dreams but also their families dreams and that these dreams could be taken away in a flash by injury. While all this was happening–me turning into a football appreciator–I began to see my husband’s love for the game with new eyes. More than that his unfaltering dedication to our home team even at its lowest, was suddenly inspiring.
The thing that I never wanted to see was that football or sports in general has the ability to bring unlikely people together for a joint cause. I used to say that all girls secretly didn’t like sports and were just posing for the men in their life. Yes, I was extremely prejudice and N loved me anyway. The truth I learned was what Coach Taylor said at the start of each game:
“Clear eyes, Full hearts, Can’t lose!”
While when I heard the chant at first, I thought it was only about winning, I quickly realized that the love of the game is more important than winning. If you go out there and play your heart out, then you didn’t lose regardless of the end score. It caught me off guard that football and more than that a football coach was really a teacher. A person who could instill passion, a drive to work hard as hell for what you want, and to have a fiery spirit.
Now I still don’t watch football like N does…religiously, however, I have an understanding and dare I say appreciation of his undying faith for the Redskins. It’s not just about winning; it’s more about playing with your heart. So this fall, while N is watching game after game of footieball as I so endearingly nicknamed it, I can stand to watch a couple of plays knowing that leaving your heart on the field, paper, stage, classroom is the best way to live your life.