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Nashville Scene Titanic Terror

What a mother feels when her boy loves football

By Margaret Renkl

FEBRUARY 7, 2000:  I have never in my life watched a football game. In high school, I chatted with friends during actual play and watched with avid interest only when the marching band was on the field. Not that I was much interested in the band either, to be honest, but my boyfriend played French horn, and I was very interested in my boyfriend.

Later in college, I never even set foot in the arena that was the crown jewel of my small college town. I may be the only student in the history of SEC football to spend each and every Saturday during four years of home games not getting drunk in the university stadium but getting clothes washed in the university laundromat.

My roommates would say, "But it's an amazing spectacle, a study in human nature, the harmless American version of an epic Greek battle. It's fun, for Christ's sake!" Still, I never went. Why should I risk having stale beer barfed all over me by a sloshed frat boy when I could have all the dryers to myself and finish my week's laundry in record time instead?

Besides, the game itself is a little too close to an epic battle for me. All those dangerous-looking men wearing clothes that make them look even more thuggish, banging into each other and sweating and bleeding and breaking each other's arms and legs and necks, and doing all these things while thousands of people roar with approval. It's scary. Any time that many people get together and cheer while other people beat each other up, I get a little worried. I can hardly believe these cheering creatures belong to the same species that invented the sonnet and the French horn and the vaccine for polio. It makes me understand a little better how Hitler got away with so much for so long and why slavery continued to exist in the civilized world well into the 19th century.

Still, I have a warm place in my heart for Super Bowl Sunday because it was on Super Bowl Sunday 14 years ago that I met the love of my life, the man I would later marry and who eventually gave me three sons, little boys I love so much I'm terrified they'll want to grow up to be football players and risk getting their necks broken over whether or not a weird-shaped ball ends up over a certain chalk line on a muddy field.

I may, in fact, have fallen in love with my husband the very instant I met him because his first words to me were, "How come you're not watching the Super Bowl either?" A guy reading poetry during the Super Bowl was surely the guy for me.

Well, the poetry-reading grad student ended up being a good bet for all kinds of reasons, but not, as it turns out, because he doesn't like football. Unfortunately, he does like football and was only studying on that particular Super Bowl Sunday because he happened to be facing grad-school comprehensive exams, and not because he loved poems more than he loved the gridiron. For him, a good play really does rank right up there with a good sonnet.

He's passed this love affair with athletic competition on to his sons, at least to the son who at eight is old enough to understand what's going on.

"Hey, Mom, come watch with us," he called Sunday night as the Titans were in the middle of their ultimately doomed second-half rally. Just as in my college days, I was folding laundry in the next room when he ran in during a commercial, the light of near-victory shining in his eyes. "Come and watch, Mom; it's getting so exciting!"

"Thanks, honey, but I need to finish up here I think."

"But, Mom, there's only 26 seconds left in the quarter!"

"No thanks."

"But Mom! Twenty-six seconds! The Titans could tie it up in 26 seconds."

"Honey," I confessed, "I just don't like football."

"You don't like football?" he asked, puzzled.


He looked at me for a moment, the gears visibly whirring as he tried to process this information. In his whole life I had never told him, not even once, that something that fascinates him does not in fact fascinate me.

A dozen times I have feigned an interest in watching Luke Skywalker do battle with Darth Vader, I've read aloud countless Hardy Boys mysteries I pretended to find mysterious, and I've listened with rapt attention to boring tales of elementary-school dramas that unfolded at the lunch table. I have willingly listened to the same Raffi tape in the car so many times I'm actually beginning to notice its internal rhyme structure and its recurring themes.

And while my boy looked at me, trying to account for how he could like something so much that his mother didn't like at all, I could feel myself beginning to waver, to convert an entire lifetime of antipathy to something like grudging acceptance. Would it really kill me to pretend to like football, if only for his sake? Couldn't I give it 26 seconds, just to please him, just because I know the day is coming when the very idea of sitting on the sofa next to his mother during a football game will make him want to die?

But then he just shrugged: "Okay."

As he was heading back into the living room, though, he turned around and called, "Do you think we'll have time to read just one more chapter of the Hardy Boys after the game is over?"

It was already long past his bedtime, but I smiled nonetheless: "Sure we will."

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