I forget. I always forget. Then something like Saturday afternoon’s homecoming game featuring a double reverse pass play brings me back to reality. Watching the gridiron team of my alma mater, I was mesmerized early in the game, still in the first quarter, when my beloved Mustangs were seemingly against all odds. It was fourth down and long about midfield. My eyes couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. Instead of sending the kicking team onto the field, the offensive team set up an attempt for the first down. My head thought: Gutsy move. My heart’s palpitations echoed: I hope this works. I hope this works. What happened next is something rarely seen in the game of football. As soon as the ball was snapped, I realized what was happening and uttered out loud, “Oh my goodness! It’s a flea flicker!” The amazing play yielded even more astonishing results. The quarterback threw the old pigskin forty yards right into the capable hands of a receiver waiting in the end zone. It was a beautifully executed play!
If most of that first paragraph makes absolutely no sense, don’t worry. That it is the part where I forget. I always forget most of my friends DO NOT love the game of football as much as I do. I also happen to teach at this university, and since it was the homecoming game, my family and I were surrounded by many of my students in the bleachers. As soon as “flea flicker” left my lips, a few turned around and stared at me blankly. “Our professor has lost her mind!” or “Wow! I can’t believe she really knows the game of football,” were the only options for the thoughts swirling behind their agape mouths. I can’t be certain either way.
I love the game of football. I can’t remember when my love began because when I was little I thought only two “religions” existed: Baptist and Football. My husband played as did both of our sons. We hoped that cleats and helmets would be in our future from the moment the doctor declared, “It’s a boy!”. And for a small sliver of time, football was a big part of my family’s life.
During the 2007-2008 school year, both of my boys were playing tackle football, offensive linemen (the real men, as one coach put it) on their respective seventh and fifth grade teams. For the first time in our lives, we had to split up as a family to attend the games because all of the younger brother’s games were Saturday, and for some odd reason our older son’s team had a large number of weekend tournaments in addition to a smattering of weeknight games. The only game where big brother could attend little brother’s game was the league championship. Sadly, no one told the weather about that because freezing rain caused the season ender to be cancelled. I walked downstairs to one of the saddest and sweetest moments of my life as a parent. I found our older son crying in the bedroom he shared with his brother. When I asked him why he was crying, his answer completely took my breath away and melted my heart. “I never got to watch Sawyer play. I know he was great, Mom, but I never got to cheer him on. He cheered me on, but I never got to do that for him.”
Trying my best to cheer everyone up, I suggested a rainy day photoshoot because we had all their uniforms and gear at home. The impromptu and silly antic proved to be something more valuable than I could have ever known that day. Both boys suited up, and camera at the ready, I snapped a dozen or so shots. The love for each other and for the game they shared was evident in every smile.
Little did we know that would be the last time they would wear football uniforms together. Four months later, they and one of their little sisters were riding home on the school bus when the bus was struck and hit by a driver who failed to stop at a stop sign. Four children were killed, including our oldest son, Reed. The remaining passengers had a range of injuries, some life-threatening or life-altering, like our other son and daughter.
In the intensive care, our son Sawyer, roused from a medically-induced state, asked the doctor, who would be performing the first of over 25 surgeries, four questions. The fourth question shows how much the game of football meant to him. Sir, if you say I am going to walk again, will I be able to play football? The doctor, much to his credit, asked him what position he played.
For the next three years, every surgery, every hour of therapy, every tear shed had one goal in mind: playing the game he loved and shared with his brother. It was a very long recovery, but he never wavered in his goal to return to the game he shared with Reed. Every milestone reached was another answered prayer for our family. The day came, three years later, when he could finally step back onto the field. Many tears were shed, not just by our family but by many in the community who had cheered him along the way.
My love for the game became less about a well-executed play and more about seeing my sweet boy being able to be a kid again. During the months and years following our darkest day, our faith sustained us even when we thought we had nothing left to give. Our friends and family were constant, faithful, and vigilant cheerleaders and prayer warriors, providing encouragement every day. But football, the truly American pastime, became much more than a game to us. It became our glimmer of hope, a shining example that through it all God cared about the little stuff, including the dreams a little boy had of playing football again.
So even though I forget that not everyone loves the game of football as much as me, it’s really okay. “Faith, family, and football” is much more than just a saying around my house. Maybe I wasn’t exactly wrong as a kid thinking two things would be really important in my world. As far as I can tell, Jesus and the game of football saved my family.