My friend Amy recently requested that her Facebook friends post their favorite football pictures.
I haven’t respond yet because I’m still sorting through all those glorious images, both among my files and in my mind.
I love football, and I wish I would have played it in high school. I love it as a recreational player, as a fan, and, especially, as a mom.
I love the swagger those jerseys inspire, and the teamwork they represent. I admire the Biblical lessons the sport teaches about rising, literally and figuratively, from a fall. My son Charlie played on a team whose motto was “11 as one”. They finished 11-1 after a perfect regular season. I joked that they should have included a couple of coaches in their motto. Fourteen as one would have earned them a state title.
I understand the increasing concerns about hits football players take to the head, and I am grateful for the excellent coaching and state-of-the-art helmets that protected my sons. But, when I think about football, I like to think about what goes on inside those precious heads.
During their runs as high school football players, my sons learned how to rely on their fellow lineman, how to throw an excellent block, how to distinguish between the kind of pain you play through and the kind that requires a doctor’s repair, how to take criticism and use it to better your game, and how to celebrate with class.
Those lessons, of cooperation, generosity, drive, humility and grace have served them just as well off the field.
I have, on occasion, had to correct people who make the absurd assumption that football players lack intellect. I can say without reservation that some of the brightest people I know play or played football. I believe this misconception stems from an ironic ignorance of the game’s nuances.
Most people can’t even understand the Erhardt-Perkins system, much less try to run it. There are 22 moving parts to every single football play and each athlete has to both hit the mark and anticipate the opponent.
Student athletes must memorize and understand their playbook, even as they work to maintain a required GPA despite an often rigorous academic schedule. When they aren’t studying or practicing, they’re watching game film.
My favorite football picture?
It’s the exhausted, smelly, grimy player with clumps of grass stuck to his helmet and muddy sweat streaking his face who hoists his littlest sister and biggest fan on his shoulder because he and his teammates have just played a game better than any of them ever thought they could.
It’s the four captains linking hands as they walk to the center of the field.
It’s that one fiery player pacing the sidelines and then gathering his teammates to deliver an eloquent and passionate third quarter pep talk.
It’s a beaming Reggie White hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and carrying it around the perimeter of the Superdome to share it with Packer fans.
It’s Chuck Cecil and the scab he wore on the bridge of his nose like a red badge of courage.
It’s the many, many teammates of my dad’s who showed up on a cold day in February to honor him by serving as pallbearers.
I’ll tell you something else about the football players I know. They’re loyal for life.