Like many of you, I watched my child play in a sporting event over the weekend. For The Boy, it’s smack dab in the middle of football season. Football, probably more than any sport, requires a group of insiders to control elements of the game that only coaches, teammates, and the parents of those players can identify.
They are much like the SPLAT of a paintball. They start off on the inside and, depending on the force of contact, either remain where they fall or get squeezed out and splashed on the field just outside of the initial splotch.
These players line up two inches from their opponents' helmets — bent over — bad breath, spit, and snot escaping huffing mouths and puffing nostrils. They bang and smash semi-padded bodies together time after time and play after play. They land in piles of bodies and grunts, and it’s probably just as well that you don’t hear about everything that goes on in there.
The Boy plays center. He bends over the ball and with two hands forces it up and between his legs to the quarterback’s hands. That’s only the beginning. Before he’s able to look at his opponent, he’s HIT! — ONCE! — AGAIN! — maybe THREE times! Then he’s up — POUNDING — BATTERING his nemesis. He’s trying to SLAM him backwards or to one side. And then POP! THUMP! a second player has joined in against him. Helmets make CONTACT! Bodies fall into knees. Feet and hands get stepped on. Then they SMASH into him some more because as long as he’s on his feet he can fight back.
The center needs to give his quarterback or running back enough time to make something materialize — throw a pass or run through a gap he’s opened between two players. If the space is about to close — SHUFFLE! — MOVE! — JUMP! — RELOAD! And HIT another player!
He’s UP! He’s DOWN! BLINDSIDED from the left. He spins in time to KNOCK another body slightly off course because it’s a game of inches and if YOU don’t claim them, the kid across from you will make them HIS own.
The Boy is big. He can handle himself on the inside. There is much that tends to be out of a player’s control on a football field though. On Sunday an opponent’s helmet struck him hard just below the left kneecap. As a parent you immediately question the decision to let him choose football over painting scenes of the Farmington River or preparing gourmet meals in the kitchen — either of them being a more realistic career choice than a professional athlete. But for some reason he enjoys the contact and the type of camaraderie that a team sport can offer.
He made it off the field with no assistance, albeit limping very badly. I’m not accustomed to seeing him hurt. One advantage of being on the board of a youth league for thirteen years is that you’ve paid for your sideline seats tenfold. I happened to be standing a few yards away as EMT and Boy met in the middle of the bench.
Yes, The Boy is rather big, but while a football helmet is made to protect a head, it can sometimes turn a shin to shades of pain.
The knee itself had not been compromised. Below it however was a bruise that had just begun to tell us its full story. Within five minutes it had bypassed the size of the kneecap by at least one and a half times. My wife stayed in the bleachers until her inner LPN would not allow it anymore. There was not enough ice within a 10-mile radius as far as she was concerned.
The backup center played crazy hard for as long as he could. The inside of the game is brutal and will wear a smaller player down play after play after play. His heart and his fight pulled the team into halftime.
During halftime The Boy asked the coach to tape him up because he was going back in. Coach tried to tell him that there was no tape left. The Boy was stubborn though and dug deep into the equipment bag and found two spools of something that ended up on his upper shin.
The second half of the game was a lesson in perseverance. He played as though his father would be writing about it the next morning. So on a late Sunday afternoon on one of the most spectacular days that any October has ever offered, The Boy learned something about himself.
Those of us who had any sort of a bloodline to him had goose bumps on our skin and lumps in our throats when the coach mentioned his gutsy will to return to the field during his postgame comments to the team.
I’m not ready for him to become a man quite yet. He’s our last one at home and not a full year into his teens. He still needs to figure out how to harness his enthusiasm and distribute it between the activities that he enjoys and the schoolwork that he’d rather block than tackle.
Yes, many of us watched our children play in sporting events over the weekend. Some surpassed our expectations in performance and determination while others outshined their opponents by the sheer intensity of their smiles. And later on when it was bedtime and the athletic tape had curled and the icepacks were lukewarm, we tucked them into their safe beds and marveled at how lucky we were to be in that exact place at that exact moment.