The Character of Football
Football is that kind of game, one which demands a certain amount of emotional involvement; at times that can be a roller coaster ride from pain to delight in seconds. Perhaps it is because of the ups and downs that fans continue to love the game at all levels.
It can be an intense experience; anyone that watched the midnight miracle of Santana Moss's 70 yard touchdown pass completion knows how exciting and dramatic the game can be. With that remarkable catch the Redskins, doormats for a decade, rose up to beat the Cowboys; their fans across the country viewed the results in stunned resignation; forgetting for a moment the last 10 years of victories.
In the D.C. area it is just as if Washington won the Super Bowl. People walked with a bit of spring of in their step, a bit of lightness in their hearts. Joe Gibbs is a nice guy and a great coach; only Dallas fans could fail to appreciate the joy that Gibbs got from this one win.
The joy and elation that comes with wins is always balanced by that sinking feeling you have in your gut when your team is losing. As a fan you sit in the stands or watch your team on television with an emotional investment in the outcome. Victory or defeat on a Monday night can set the emotional tone of an entire region on Tuesday morning.
When your team moves away in the dead of night, it leaves emotional scars. I recall my own feelings of loss when I watched the Mayflower trucks steal away the Baltimore Colts one snowy night. My first memories of football were those of playing in my yard with my brother and Dad one brilliant autumn day.
My father, Baltimore born and raised, was a die-hard Colts fan. He took us to Colts games and I saw Johnny Unitas play at Memorial Stadium. Even when the Colts were awful, I was still a fan.
Fall always brought a renewed sense of hope, anticipation for that first game. Then they were gone; the sense of loss was like bereavement.
Without a team there was a hole come Sundays. I tried to love the Redskins, but I couldn't. For a time the Baltimore Stars were there and always the Maryland Terrapins; but it wasn't until the Ravens roosted in Baltimore that I found a team to replace my Colts.
Still the sight of that blue horseshoe brings pain, but time has nearly healed that. For the most part it's been fun being a Ravens fan. There are times it hurts, like when they were destroyed in the recent dismal loss to the Tennessee Titans.
I wish the Ravens would finally fix the problem with their offensive line. It is not a secret how bad it is except perhaps to the announcers of the games. Last year they would hype games by claiming that the Ravens had the "Biggest Offensive Line in the NFL." It really is a question of ability, not just size. The Titans made that brilliantly clear when they roasted, toasted, sliced and diced the Raven's quarterbacks.
For years the quarterback wheel of fortune has spun in Baltimore; all of them have had limited success after spending hours being pummeled into ground. The relentless beatings they've taken were seldom blamed on the offensive line and always placed upon the quarterback. It's a lot like blaming the engine in your sports car for having four blown tires. Brian Billick may be facing the first wave of "fire the coach" sentiment in the next few weeks. Yet even a bad team is better than no team at all.
If being a fan is stressful, it is even harder being a parent of a player. The joy of watching him (or her) succeed is always balanced by the pain of watching a missed play or having that constant concern over the risk of injury. A team loss is something that goes home with you, like a bruise; but a victory in the next game has miraculous healing powers. A victory comes with feelings of success and achievement; something the whole community shares in.
Football can only exist as a community sport. From middle school to the NFL, it takes a lot of organization and community involvement just to play the game. You need a place to play and to practice and uniforms. Every player must be transported to games, fed, washed and have their laundry cleaned.
The return on that investment comes in many forms. Kids grow up as team members, knowing a lot more people because they meet them in the course of training and playing. They learn what it means to work hard and take responsibility.
The community benefits in having neighbors, who might otherwise never meet, gather for a shared interest; that helps to create friendships. A community takes great pride in its kids and teams, even if they don't always win; for it is a future generation literally being built with each practice and each game. One that will treasure and love the game just as past generations did.
Autumn brings colder days and brilliant fall foliage. The golden leaves and brisk winds provide a backdrop for football games allowing for brilliant afternoons and crisp evenings spent in the stands watching.
It may be an emotional roller coaster when you care about the team and the outcome; but even when they lose you have shared something important with your community and friends. Football builds a network of roots, of friends, family, fans and team-mates that extends wherever they may move or travel.
The faces may change on the field and in the stands, but the legacy of the game continues and grows with each new season as a new generation comes to build on the traditions of the old.
That is why the game is worth the emotional investment, win or lose.