Thursday, January 16, 2014
Kaw Kaw! Go Hawks!
Last Sunday the local American football team – the Seattle Seahawks – played the New Orleans Saints. I don't have to tell you that they won this quarterfinal game. They are moving ahead against their arch rival the San Francisco 49ers - one step closer to the Super Bowl. I am a football fan only by association – association it turns out with my husband, my son and most of North America’s population. In my childhood, I went to college football games with my best friend. We lived in a small town in eastern Canada. My friend’s dad was the university football coach. At the time I had no idea what a big deal that was. He was a hero to most kids in town but to me he was just my best friend’s dad.
The football stadium was near our house. From September to November, Saturday afternoons were centered on the football game. The university had three different colleges – arts and sciences, engineering and medicine. Each of the colleges had a different color – red for arts, yellow for engineering and blue for medicine. Having been founded by the Church of Scotland, the university had many Scottish traditions. On football Saturdays, the students, mostly men in those years (1958-64), wore short kilts and tam o’shanter caps. All the caps sported the traditional fluffy pompom on top in the appropriate color. The plaid of the caps and kilts was predominantly red, yellow and blue – the university colors. To this day, in my mind’s eye, I can see the long white legs – often skinny and always hairy – of the young men parading through town towards the stadium sporting their kilts and caps proudly.
I had no idea or understanding of the game of football. My family was English and knew nothing about the North American game. First downs; punts; field goals; point after kicks; all were Greek to me. I did know that you got points for a touchdown but I am not sure I recognized the point after option. In my memory a touchdown was worth seven points, not six. No matter. The games were a wonderful spectacle – not to be missed. I remember cruising around the stadium with my friend as if we owned the place…sitting in the student section; climbing up into the faculty section (my dad was a professor at the University); standing on the sidelines near her dad – a privilege reserved for the connected few. Hard to imagine having that sort of freedom as a pair of eleven-year-old girls in today’s world. I even remember parading down main street following the band and the guys in short kilts after winning games. Now that was really fun!
My family left Canada for the United States in 1964. I attended an all girls’ high school and an all girls’ college. Football, with the exception of a few dates in high school with the quarterback of a neighboring boys’ school, was not part of my teenage and college experience. In my twenties I was a bit of a nerd. I spent my Saturday afternoons hiking and kayaking in the mountains or sometimes even studying in the library! I didn’t own a television. I didn’t know that football, both the college and professional variety, was becoming big business.
Some years later, I fell in love and moved across the country to Seattle. My future husband already had season tickets to the University of Washington football team – the Huskies. He was a serious fan. On Saturday afternoons in the fall, we walked to the stadium, jostled through the eager crowd and cheered the Huskies to victory. We ate hotdogs and yelled until we lost our voices. Those were the glory days of Don James. One year we went to the Rose Bowl and cheered crazily while the Dawgs (as the Husky teams are called) beat the pants off the University of Iowa. We sat enthralled, watching the sunset over the Pasadena hills, proudly wearing our purple and gold.
I have been a Husky football fan for more than thirty years. I am a pretty analytical person and I have figured out some of the game’s strategy. We’ve had some pretty bad years and never enough good years. Regardless I am a faithful fan. I have attended the opening of two new Husky Stadiums including last year’s when the team entered through a cheering corridor of the men and women who built the new stadium! I have a full purple and gold outfit…I even have Husky earrings that I only wear to Husky games. So finally, in my sixties, I understand the fever pitch of football fans.
When my son was in high school he became a rabid Seahawks fan. Over the years, whenever the Seahawks played the Monday night football game, he invited his buddies over. I barely knew who the Hawks were, but I dutifully served up oven-fried chicken and crispy potato skins. I can still see the big, rather ungainly teenage boys sprawled in my TV room, sneakers off and sweat socks stinking. But they were cheering and laughing and basically having fun. Now my son and his wife live in Oakland. They are serious Seahawks fans.
This week, the Seahawks dominate the local news media. They are talking about them on Sports radio and on NPR. Everyone is thinking about Beast Mode and Marshawn Lynch the incredible running back. Even my un-trained eyes can see this man is unusual. It isn’t that he is so strong and so fast. What makes him hard to beat is the amazing concentration he brings to his rushing. When you watch this man you realize that his deep desire to move through the opposing team is just greater than that of his adversaries. He literally wills himself forward.
It is true that he is big and powerful and in the kind of physical condition that most people can’t even dream about. But all of these strengths pale in comparison to his inner determination. That is the strongest thing about him. That is how he inspires his teammates. That is why folks in Seattle love him. He is Beast Mode. He is also the founder of a charity in his hometown of Oakland California that empowers under-privileged youth. That is the kind of beast even a middle-aged woman can love.
There are many things about football that we can question – unfortunately I have watched young men suffer dreadful injuries as well as witnessing coaches and players engage in unethical, even illegal activities. I know that the amount of money in both college and professional football is often hard to justify and that the risks to the players’ physical and mental wellbeing can be devastating. But on a Monday night or a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, when your team is winning and the championship is within reach, you have to be dead or dull not to feel the thrill of football. The color, the excitement, the competition, the strategy, the suspense, the noise – all of these things are just fun to be part of.
You can bet I’ll be watching the Seahawks on Sunday afternoon. I’ll be putting healthy eating aside and munching my hotdog and potato chips and enjoying a cold one. Plenty of time for fiber after they win.
Kaw Kaw! Go Hawks.