We sat facing a sweet Saturday sun, wearing our festive red gear and pondering our place in this fickle universe.
Was it right to settle in and enjoy a college football game in Wisconsin while a huge, snarling hurricane ripped through the Caribbean and bore down on Florida? Especially since the rightful holder of our excellent seats, my high school friend Jennie, was hunkered down in Tampa and facing a direct hit from Irma?
Then my phone buzzed and I read this text from her: I hope you made it to the game. I am watching! followed by clever and cheerfully appropriate emoticons.
For its fans, football can provide an excellent distraction from some of life’s most troubling times. The necessary concentration it takes to analyze the simultaneous action of 22 athletes means you have to set aside your concerns to participate fully.
It’s always been a welcome break for us. This weekend, we learned that football provides a temporary respite from worry for plenty of fans.
The following day found me in another historic stadium, squinting into another afternoon sun, cheering another beloved football team and still worrying about my Floridian family and friends.
My cellphone buzzed again and this time I read a text from my sister in-law Elaine: I am taking a little break from hurricane coverage to watch the big game. Go Pack Go!
First of all, it was great to hear from her as she too was hunkered down in Jacksonville with my brother in-law Chip, his mother Myrna and his cat Jean Claws. Wily hurricane vets, they had prepared themselves admirably, even choosing the hotel least likely to lose power, based on its location.
Secondly, well, right back at you, Elaine. Go Pack Go!
Two thousand miles separated us, but we shared a singular focus on the action at hand and we spent the next three hours thinking the same thing: Mike Daniels is going to have an All-Pro year. Obviously. (Knock wood and please God he stays healthy).
Football not only provides a pleasant distraction, it also unites. Most fans are indiscriminate high-fivers. I’ve slapped hands with people I’ve never seen before and probably will never see again. I’ve also commiserated with complete strangers over painful losses, bad plays or the occasional questionable call.
I don’t have to think about anything but football when I watch a game, even though I know that everything I’ve set aside will still be waiting for me once that final whistle sounds.
Go Pack Go! (or, if you must, SEA—-HAWKS!) becomes an animated om, a mantra to center us, a sacred sound that unites us all in our humanity (but should never be chanted at Lambeau when our offense has the ball. C’mon, people, we’re better than that!)
We watch football because life can be hard and sometimes you need a reason to stand up and cheer.