Unfair assumption #29: Football fans are more effective in emergencies

As we left the house last night, our 19 year-old babysitter was settling in to watch the end of the Atlanta Falcons - Seattle Seahawks playoff game.

She'd been watching the first half of the game at home before coming over.   

When I arrived home from the show five hours later, she was sitting in the living room, watching the Patriots - Texans playoff game. She was kind enough to turn the game off as I entered the house so I could watch it on tape delay (after ensuring that her father was recording it at home as well), but still, she was watching intently when I walked in the door.

Just so we are clear: She watched NFL football on her own for almost the entire time that I was gone.

I know it's entirely unfair to assume anything based upon her viewing preferences, but if the house suddenly caught fire, a bear clawed its way into our home, or the Russians invaded our town Red Dawn style, I can't help but think that this 19 year-old woman would handle the situation with ease.

Or at least more competently than the babysitter who spends the evening watching the Kardashians or The Family Feud.  

An unfair assumption to be sure, but it's a gut feeling that I can't help but think is at least a little bit true.  

When I explained my assumption to Elysha, she informed me that our babysitter is also attending Harvard University and is home on break.

Perhaps my gut instincts are more accurate than previously thought. 

It's true. I hate strangers because of what they love most.

I'm a reluctant atheist (I wish I had faith in a higher power but haven't managed to find it yet), but I can certainly get behind the belief that hate is never a good thing and should be avoided whenever possible.

I also agree with this church sign when it comes to football season. Football makes it very hard to avoid hate.

Particularly when dealing with the fans of the Jets, Ravens, and any team coached by Rex Ryan.

Today I'll be watching the Patriots battle the Buffalo Bills, a team coached by Rex Ryan. I'll try not to say anything too terrible.

Twenty-five years spent standing in a parking lot

I'll be tailgating in the parking lot at the Patriots game on Sunday. I have seen many things in the decades I have spent tailgating at Gillette Stadium.

Public intoxication. Nudity. Fist fights. Fender benders. Lobster shell distance throws. A Christmas tree labeled "Trebow" that was set afire and nearly burned several dummies to death in the process. 

I've bribed parking attendants. Trudged through snow up to my waist. Sent a soon-to-be-exgirlfriend back to the car at halftime when she could no longer endure the freezing rain and demanded to be brought home. Pushed my pregnant wife up the ramps to our seats with the help of my friend, Shep.   

Even after a quarter century of attending New England Patriots football games, I still see things while tailgating that surprise me.

Like this: 

A comfortable place to sit prior to the game and perhaps an efficient way to get rid of an old piece of furniture at the same time. 

Killing two birds and such.

Policing the national anthem makes you a self-righteous jerk

This isn't a post about the athletes who are kneeling or sitting during the singing of the national anthem. When it comes to that particular form of protest, I would personally prefer that they find a different way to draw attention to a very important issue, but I also recognize and respect their right to protest in the way they choose. 

No, this is about the jackass who was four rows behind me at the Patriots game on Sunday and all the jackasses like him who I have seen and listened to over the years. As the national anthem began to play, this man began shouting at several fans in the seats below us who had forgotten to remove their caps, ordering them to do so in a harsh, arrogant, and unforgiving fashion. 

During the singing of the anthem, mind you.

Most of these fans sheepishly removed their caps, some motioning apologies to the jackass for their mistake, but one man left his hat atop his head. Instead of removing it, he slowly turned and smiled at the jackass behind me, who was still shouting even though the world famous opera singer who was singing the anthem was at least 16 bars into the song by now. 

I don't think the smiling man's refusal to remove his cap was a genuine protest. I don't think he decided to leave his cap on during the singing of the national anthem to make a statement.

I think he just forgot to take it off.  

I also suspect that he was annoyed by the jackass a dozen rows up who had declared himself to be the cap police. I suspect that he - like me - thought that the decision to interrupt the national anthem by barking out orders was more disrespectful to our nation's flag than any failure to remove a head covering. 

I admired the smiling man who chose to leave his hat on. I loved that guy. His was not a protest against police violence or racial disparity or economic inequality. His was a protest against the idea that the guy with the loudest voice and the thickest neck gets to tell anyone what to do, regardless of location or circumstances. His was a protest against the idea that conformity cannot be dictated by some self-righteous, self-assigned arbiter of what is right and wrong.

That smiling man's decision to leave his cap on his head and grin at the jackass was both courageous and admirable. In almost every other circumstance, I would have preferred for the smiling man to remove his cap. But when faced with a barking jackass who thinks he can dictate the behavior of others through volume and aggression, I think he did the right thing. 

Honestly, I almost put my cap back on. Had I been farther away from the jackass and slightly more courageous, I might have done exactly that.

Respect for the nation's flag means removing your cap during the national anthem, but it also means shutting the hell up while the anthem is being sung and allowing people to leave their caps on if they so choose.

There's nothing more enjoyable than watching a beefy, loud-mouthed jerk be neutered by a hat and a smile.     

Football hurts me. Serious injuries. Still, who wants to play tackle football with me?

With the exception of an annual teacher-versus-student annual flag football game, I have played football exactly twice in five years despite my desire to play much more often.

What I really want is to play tackle football, but as a man in his forties with friends about my age or older, this has been impossible to do. Even the handful of millennials who I count as friends do not want to play tackle football with me (which should come as no surprise).

Though I would play tackle football in a heartbeat if asked, perhaps my inability to find such a game has been a blessing. 

Almost five years ago I played a flag football game with friends that led to a collision between my head and my friend's torso. I don't actually remember the collision and was likely concussed (but after a few minutes continued to play), and my friend was X-rayed three days later and discovered that he had two broken ribs. 

In October, I played a game of two-on-two touch football. On the first play from scrimmage, I dove for a sideline pass and hurt my shoulder. It was hurt ever since. Two weeks ago, I began physical therapy on what may be a torn rotator cuff.

I love football, but perhaps football doesn't love me. 

Or maybe I should stop playing the game as if a Super Bowl title is on the line. 

Either way, I'm still looking to play. Two hand touch, flag, or tackle. Whatever I can find.

But tackle would be great. 

The Patriots lost yesterday. I'm a happy Patriots fan today. You should be, too.

As a Patriots fan who spent yesterday evening in Gillette Stadium, watching his beloved team blunder their way to a second straight loss, you might think that I would be upset today. Depressed. Annoyed. Outraged. Discouraged. Disheartened. Even angry. Enraged. 

You might think that the flood of messages that I received from joyous Giants, Jets, and Philly fans just after the game would have set me on edge. Primed me for sadness or rage.

These would all be reasonable expectations, But you would be wrong.

Perhaps it's because of the way the Patriots lost the game yesterday. They were not dominated on offense or defense. They were not pushed around and overmatched. They may not even have been the worst team on the field yesterday. 

Three plays caused The Patriots to lose yesterday. 

  • A blocked punt returned for a touchdown. 
  • A punt return for a touchdown. 
  • A 100 yard interception return for a touchdown. 

Take away one of these plays - unusual plays which you almost never see and truly never see in one game - and the Patriots win easily. Two of the plays resulted in 10 and 14 point swings respectively, and the third play put seven points on the board for the Eagles. 

When your team makes dumb mistakes and loses, it's perhaps easier to feel okay about the loss. It's not a sign that my favorite team is physically inferior or less talented. It's not a signal of things to come. It's simple stupidity. The inability to execute. 

In short, dumb mistakes. 

And perhaps it's easier to accept the loss when your team's record is still 10-2. Had the loss ruined my team's chances to make the playoffs (like the Giant's loss did yesterday), perhaps I would not be feeling as good as I do today.

And perhaps the fact that the Patriots' best receiver, the other best receiver (and one of the best players in all of football), the best running back, the best offensive lineman, and the best linebacker are injured (with three of the five expected back by the playoffs) helps to dampen the pain of the loss. While it's universally acknowledged that all football teams suffer injuries by December, it's also been universally acknowledged that the Patriots rash of injuries this year has been extreme. 

We've lost without some of our best players on the field. Of course we struggled. Just wait until they are back.

All of these reasons may help me to feel better this morning, but here is what I think is the real reason:

I enjoyed the game yesterday. I did not enjoy the final play or the final score, but the game was exciting. The final score was not 35-7 or even 35-14. It was 35-28, and with a minute to go, my team had roared back and was threatening to tie and maybe win. 

It was a thrilling fourth quarter. 

The Patriots scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes.
They recovered an onside kick. 
They forced a fumble with under a minute to play to get the ball back.

They also ran a double reverse which led to stone-footed Tom Brady catching a 36 yard pass. 

This was not a team that laid down and died. They fought. They fought like hell.  

When the Patriots scored on a Tom Brady one yard run with 3:00 minutes to go, the faithful who had not already fled the stadium erupted in cheers. The concrete and steel beneath my feet began to shake. I was jumping in the air, pumping my fist, offering high-fives to anyone I could find. Still down by a touchdown with three minutes to play and only two timeouts, the chances of tying or winning were still slim. The Patriots needed the ball back.

A recovered onside kick. 
A defensive stop.
A turnover.

They got the turnover, but they could not manage to drive the field.

We lost.

But those final five minutes... the joy, the hope, the possibility. It was amazing. It was a feeling that can only be experienced if you have been in the depths of despair. It was like watching a phoenix rising from the ashes. It was hope where there was once none.

These are not everyday feelings. These are momentous emotions.  

When the Patriots scored with three minutes to go, I turned to my friend - a man who once told me that I live in the moment more than anyone he has ever known - and said, "Listen. We probably aren't going to win this game. But please, don't forget this moment. This moment of joy and possibility. Don't let the depression of a loss steal this moment of happiness from you."

I was actually screaming these words to him over the roar of the crowd and the music, and I was holding onto him. Squeezing his shoulders and chest. Trying to force my words into his body.

My friend - who was also attending his first professional football game ever - did not heed my advice. He was not able to hold that moment of joy and hope in his heart. He grumbled on the way home. Told me that it's the end result that matters. That moments of possibility are meaningless when they don't result in a win.

I suspect that many Patriots fans will be feeling similarly today. They will be angry or annoyed or depressed today and perhaps tomorrow and maybe all week. 

I understand that, too. Had the Patriots lost 35-7 in a game that offered nothing by way of excitement and joy, I would be feeling the same way. 

But that's not what I watched yesterday. I felt joy in that stadium yesterday. Hope filled my heart. I witnessed an almost remarkable comeback by a team of determined football players.

For a short time, I was as happy as a person can be. 

And I got to see a crazy double reserve pass to the quarterback, too.  

Too often we forget the small moments of happiness and hope when the end result is less than we expected or desired.

Perhaps my friend is right. Maybe I am able to live in the moment more than most, but even more important than living in the moment is remembering those moments long after they have passed. It's honoring them. Recognizing them as important and blessed events in our lives. Acknowledging the great fortune to be able to exist in that moment, experiencing the kind of hope and joy that can be so elusive for so many.

I'm okay today. I didn't like the final score, and I wish that the Patriots comeback would have been complete, but the moments along the way were magical. Unforgettable. I'll keep them close to my heart and leave the final score for someone else to wallow over. 

I experienced genuine euphoria yesterday. Unabashed joy. Pure, unbridled happiness. When was the last time you felt that way?

The New England Patriots won an incredible game yesterday. It was one of the most amazing comeback victories that I have ever seen, but what will be lost to the casual observer was how the comeback began when the Patriots lost the ball on a controversial fourth down play with 2 minutes and 50 seconds remaining in the game.

But all accounts, the New Orleans Saints should have been able to win the game right there and then.

Instead of running out the clock or scoring a touchdown, the Saints settled for a field goal, putting them ahead by 4. Then the Patriots got the ball back, and Tom Brady promptly threw an interception on the first play with 2 minutes and 24 seconds remaining on the clock.

Without any timeouts to stop the clock, the game should’ve been over. Again.

But the Patriots defense held, and Brady got the ball back one more time with just over a minute on the clock. That’s three possessions in a span of just under three minutes.

Then, with 10 seconds left in the game, Brady threw the game winning touchdown pass to undrafted rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.


The moments leading up to the touchdown were an emotional roller coaster for me. The ball is dropped on the fourth down play, and I shout at the receiver for his stupidity. I hang my head in disgust. All hope is lost.

Then the defense holds the Saints to a field goal, and hope dares to rise in my belly. My eyes widen. My fists clench.

Then Brady throws a terrible interception and all hope is lost again. I drop to my knees and shout an unintelligible mix of groans and wails. “That’s it,” I declare. “Game over.”

But despite my despair, I keep watching, and the defense holds again. A glimmer of hope returns. A tiny flicker. I want to believe.  

With less than a minute on the clock and no timeouts, the team drives down the field with precision. Receivers run routes and make catches. Brady puts the ball in their hands in stride.

Then comes the touchdown.

When Thompkins caught that ball in the corner of the end zone, I leapt to my feet in euphoria. I shouted. I screamed. I jumped up and down. I pumped my fists. I scooped my daughter from the couch and swung her through the air. We danced. We cheered. My phone began dinging with messages from equally euphoric friends who were watching the game. I was out of breath by the time I sat back down on the couch, and even this morning, more than twelve hours after the victory, my heart beats a little quicker and there is joy in my soul.

I can’t help but wonder:

If you aren’t a sports fan, and if you don’t live and die with the success and failures of a particular team, do you ever have the opportunity to experience the kind of blinding euphoria that I experienced yesterday?

Are there other moments in your life that cause you to scream and cry and leap in the air and joyously embrace strangers wearing the same colors as you?

If these moments exist for the non-sports fan, when do they happen, and do they happen nearly as much as they do for someone like me?

I don’t think so.

My wife, for example, celebrated the Patriots victory with me. She was happy for the team’s success. She was pleased with the result. But when the touchdown was scored, there was only one crazy person in the house. I was the only lunatic who couldn’t stop pumping his fists and jumping up and down and shouting.   

When does someone like my wife get to experience the level of genuine euphoria that I felt yesterday afternoon?

I’m not sure that they ever do.

I’m the first to acknowledge that my love for the New England Patriots is irrational. It is a geographically-based adoration for a group of a men who I don’t really know who play a sport that I don’t play myself. I cheer for these men as they attempt to win a game against a different group of men who I despise for no good reason.

It’s crazy.

But it also brings the diehard sports fan a level of joy that can be experienced in so few other ways.

I get that chance every Sunday during football season.

It’s crazy. It’s irrational. But I pity those who don’t get to experience it for themselves.

Jumping out of a plane without a parachute is dangerous enough. Adding an additional layer of danger is just stupid.

I am not an overly cautious person. I have experienced my fair share of danger over the years.

I have almost died more than anyone I know.

I’m the only person I know who desperately wants to play tackle football with his friends.

I wear a helmet while riding my bike but only to set a good example for my students and children. If I wasn’t directly associated with so many kids, there is no way that I would be strapping that stupid thing to my head.

I have a book idea that would place me in a significant amount of danger in order to write. And I plan on doing it.

Despite my occasionally dangerous lifestyle, I think this is stupid. It’s amazing and daring and utterly mesmerizing, but it’s too much of a risk.

It’s unnecessarily dangerous. It’s stupidly dangerous. I do not approve.

My little girl playing football?

Have you heard about Erin DiMeglio, the first girl to play quarterback in a Florida high school football game? DeMeglio is the third string quarterback on a roster is filled with college prospects. “The star running back has committed to Miami, and its starting quarterback has offers from Navy and Air Force.”

She apparently has a cannon for an arm and has earned the respect of her teammates because of her skill and poise on the field .

DiMeglio had proved herself to the other players during spring and summer workouts, so when she officially joined the team, it was met with a respectful shrug. She has her own changing area in the girls’ locker room, and at the seven-on-seven camp last summer, she shared a room with the cheerleading coach. Otherwise, she is one of the guys, and they are protective of her.

As a father of a three year old girl, I read this story and had two divergent thoughts:

  1. Based upon the way I played tackle football and my frequent attempts to inflict bodily harm on my opponents, I would not want my little girl playing the game with a bunch of boys who are larger and stronger than she.
  2. I can’t imagine the pride that a father must feel upon learning that his little girl possesses the courage and inner fortitude required to play a game normally reserved for boys and men.

As the two opposing thoughts waged battle in my mind, I tried to imagine what I might say if Clara ever came to me and expressed a desire to play high school football.

Presuming she had the skills to play, it would be a tough call.

While I might attempt to steer her in the direction of a sport where her competition would consist of  fellow females, I can’t imagine stopping her from trying something that few people have ever attempted before.

That’s the thing about courage:  It cannot exist without risk.

If we protect our children from danger at every turn, we deny them the opportunity to be brave.

So no, I would not want my little girl to play on a boy’s football team, and yes, I would be bursting with pride if she did so.