I have been involved in football most of my life. My mother was a student of football. She knew as much about football as any coach. Had she been a man, she would have been a football coach instead of a Doctor. She was a diehard Michigan fan until the day she died. I did not tell her that I was going to marry a football coach. I was not ashamed of him. I just did not understand the significance of the greatness of the game or school he coached for. When Mom asked my fiancé what he did, he told her-a teacher. She loved that. Then she asked him what he did in his spare time. He told her he had no spare time. This caught her attention. My family did not believe in spare time. He told her he was a football coach. She asked where. He told her. She was highly impressed. His school was and still is one of the top high school programs in the Nation. That did not impress me. After all football was-just football. Before I married him, he insisted I visit the town where he coached and attend a few games. It was quite a distance from me. So he flew me to his state and I stayed a few weeks.
Oh my God! I walked into a different world! The entire town supported the team. The head coach could have been a God himself, if there were not already one. It was awesome! I had to be protected from the nosey fans who wanted some tid-bit of information about the game about to occur. The stadium was nothing I had ever seen in high school football. Some colleges did not have stadiums like this one! I was overwhelmed. And the noise was deafening with the huge band and all. At the games, there were special seats for the coaching staff’s families. The stands were packed. There were, oh about, fifteen to twenty-thousand people. In high school? I was stuck in a fantasy!
We have now been married for decades. We have three children. Our middle child is a boy. He was born into a football legacy in a football town. Unlike his father, he wanted to be a quarterback. Before he could walk, he toted a football he could carry in his small hands. He started with a nerf ball and matured to real footballs. When he was able to speak some, he told his dad, “Daddy, I be a ‘uarterbac’. A ‘arsity ‘uarterbac’ ‘our school!” My husband smiled and continued what he was doing.
Although his speech got better, the statement was still the same. “Daddy, I am going to be the quarterback at your school.” Again my husband smiled and continued what he was doing. One day our son came down the stairs dressed in his football gear with his football in hand. He looked at his Dad who was about to go to practice. “Where are you going son? Do you have practice today?” His Daddy asked him.
“No Daddy, I am going to practice with you. I am going to be a ball boy for your team.” He replied with a confidence I saw frequently. My husband smiled, turned his head to the side and looked down at his young son.
“How old are you?” He asked squatting down to his level.
“I am almost five Daddy!” He said standing straight up to his small height. “And I can throw too!”
“Well! You are too young to go with me now. But, when you turn seven, you can come with me.” My husband said hugging his child.
“Really Dad? Really? Do you Promise?” He said stomping his little foot. He eyeballed his Dad with uncertainty.
“I promise son. I promise son.” He said to his son leaving out the door.
Our son started in midget football that August at the quarterback position. It was difficult for him. In our town black quarterbacks were not the “in thing”. He got a lot of negative feedback that he had to cope with. However, he never cried. He never started the game; yet, he always finished the game as quarterback. Slowly, he started to get a reputation. Then, one day, he came bouncing down the stairs. He had all the high school colors on and his big boy football in his arms. My husband was leaving for practice and stopped to look at his son.
“Where are you going? Got a game today?” He said looking at me and then again at his son.
“No daddy I am going with you. I want to be a ball boy.”
My husband squatted down and looked at our son. “Remember I told you that you cannot be a ball boy until you are seven years old. Remember when I told you that son?”
“Yes Daddy, I remember. Did you really mean that? That I could be a ball boy?” He said looking squarely in his father’s eyes.
“Yes son! I meant that. When you are seven!” My husband said standing up and gathering his things.
“I am glad you meant that. So… Dad, I am coming to football practice with you today.” He said with a smile.
My husband was about to get angry when something stopped him.
“You meant what you said Dad? Yes?”
My husband nodded. “Good Dad, because today I am seven!” He produced the biggest smile I had ever seen. My husband’s face went blank, then switched to an astonished shock! He looked at me. I blinked. I knew it was his birthday. Our son waited tossing the ball in his hand lightly looking at his Dad. My husband looked from me to our son. He hesitated. Then said, “Come on! What is taking you so long? We are going to be late!”
They rushed out of the door. I followed along with his sisters. He bounced down the stairs and to the car. My husband stopped at the car. He looked back at me and smiled. Then, he leaned down and hugged our son. “Happy birthday son!” They got into the car and left.
It was a warm football day I will never forget. The sun was bright and warm on my skin. The trees were turning with the beautiful colors of fall. My girls ran into the house. I sat on the stoop and put my head on my knees. I began to silently cry. It turned to sobs. My five year old came outside. She sat next to me and patted my back. At first I did not comprehend why I was sad. Then, I knew. It was at the moment I felt a great loss. It hurt deep in my soul. I rubbed my chest. My baby, from that moment, no longer belonged to me. I had given him willingly over to another way of life. A life he cared about with a deep passion. He was no longer my little boy. He belonged to his daddy and The Game.
My son never was with me the same way again from that day. I took care of his needs. I took him to his practices. I attended every game I could. I patched up his bruises and cuts and delivered needed hugs. But that child belonged to the last predominately male empire-known as Football.
Seven years later, he was about to be a freshman in high school. Our son stood just inches shorter that his father. He looked up at his Dad. “Dad, I am going to be the varsity quarterback for this high school team. You know that don’t you?” My husband looked at his son for a long time. I did not say a word. They stared at each other. Then, my husband demurely smiled,
“Pick up that ball and lets start doing some drills.” Our son nodded his head humbly. He went to pick up the ball with now long, graceful hands. His Dad gently, but with force-grabbed his arm.
“Son, you know this will be difficult.” Our son nodded his head again.
“Many are going to come at you like you are the enemy. They will say things like, ‘blacks are not …’ ”
“ Smart enough to be quarterback? Dad I know. I have already heard such ignorant statements on the Middle School level and at camps. I will deal with those comments as they come.” He said patiently to his Dad giving him the ball. My husband slapped our son on his back.
“Ok, then, lets get started.”
And that was just the beginning.