By Liz Adair
I don’t understand football. Well, let me temper that statement. I understand football a little. I know what the object of the game is. I understand downs and touchdowns and penalties and the basic rules of the game. I know you get six points for a touchdown, one for a kicked extra point, two for playing the extra points after a touchdown, and three points for a field goal if time and downs have run out and there’s no hope of a touchdown. All that I understand. What I don’t understand are tactics and strategy, the names of all the positions (what is a nose guard, anyway?) and the job each is called upon to do. I can keep track of which team has possession of the ball, but unless it’s in the air, I rarely know where the ball is.
The upshot of all that is, I seldom watch football. Oh, I’ll sit and watch the odd game with my husband on TV, but it’s a default experience, done to be companionable, not because I like the game.
About seven years ago, as I was pushing sixty, my son Clay played first string on the offensive line of an undefeated team, and I became an instant and avid fan. Dressed in a warm coat (and, at the end of the season, snow pants) and carrying my stadium seat, blanket, thermos of Postum and a tarp (if it was raining and I knew the stadium didn’t have a roof), I’d willingly go and endure the elements to watch for that tall lanky figure dressed in blue and gold.
Clay graduated, and that was the end of my involvement in football…until last Friday night. My grandson was playing his last home game. It was the end of a grueling week, and I had a hard time working up the energy, but because I love this boy, I decided to go. Unlike Clay’s team, Sedro Woolley hasn’t won a game all season. Hasn’t even come close. They go to state every year in wrestling but never shine in football.
I teach this grandson in seminary, and Friday morning when I talked to him about the game, he mentioned that he was coming up against the big boys that night. When I got to the stadium (dressed in heavy coat and lugging all the requisite paraphernalia except the tarp), found my seat, and read the program, I understood what he was talking about. At least six of the players on the opposing team topped 300 pounds. I gritted my teeth and prepared for a bloodbath, looking for positive things I could say about the Sedro Woolley team as I talked to my 180-pound grandson about the game.
Two minutes after the kickoff a miracle happened: The Big Boys were about two yards from the end zone when someone fumbled and a quick-thinking Sedro Wooley player scooped up the ball and ran. I was watching the cheerleaders at the moment and didn’t see the fumble or the scoop, but all of a sudden, here was this blue-clad figure sprinting down the field at the head of a gaggle of hulking, white-suited pursuers. Touchdown! We took a picture of the scoreboard after the extra point had been made: Sedro-Woolley 7, Visitors 0. No one had ever seen that before.
That wasn’t the end of it. Sedro Woolley capitalized on two more fumbles and multiple penalties, and at the end of the first half, the score was twenty one-zip. I looked around at the stands and thought of all the people who weren’t there, witnessing this miracle. I thought of how very nearly I hadn’t come. As I felt my feet and backside turning to blocks of ice, I reckoned the sacrifice was a fair trade.
The Big Boys made two touchdowns, but weren’t able to overcome the errors and fumbles of the first half. At the end of the game, jubilant Sedro Woolley fans spilled out onto the field to congratulate the players. I found my grandson, and as I and the rest of the family hugged him, he couldn’t keep from grinning.
As I soaked in the hot tub afterward, trying to restore feeling to my extremities, I thought about this grandson and this game. He’s had a bit of a struggle with choices lately. I hope to get the chance to tell him that life and living the gospel is like this game. Just get in there and do what you’ve been trained to do. Life will send the big boys at you. You’ll get pretty battered and bunged up. But, if you keep the faith, you will prevail. If you keep the faith, you will have miracles in your life at the least expected moment. If you keep the faith, your family will be there to meet you when the game is over, rejoicing as they embrace you and saying, Well Done!
More than that, they’re in the stands watching you now. They know you so well they can pick you out of the uniformed crowd by the way you stand or hold yourself. They don’t need to read the number on your back. They’re pulling for you, cheering you on, groaning at the missteps and feeling the penalties personally. They root for you on their knees each night and morning.
Go, Grandson, go! Fight, fight, fight! Keep that faith! Endure to the end! Yaaaaay!