Sports, Football and Role Models in Newburyport

I love football. I never thought I would say that, but I do.

The sound of Monday Night football’s “Are you ready for some football?” and the brass fanfare cued up for other games makes me happy. It makes me want to pop popcorn, grab my favorite blankie and curl up on the couch to cheer for the Patriots. It makes everything ok because football is bigger and better than any of my daily hassles.

It makes me forget, for a couple of hours, the detritus flying out of Washington DC.  It is such a blessed relief from the gut-churning ill will.

I never paid much attention to football until I ended up with children and a husband who love football.

Dinner conversation during football season was filled with talk about plays, players, and statistics. I started listening to sports radio just so I could understand the language they were speaking. That was the beginning. I even joined the conversation using stats I had memorized, which of course was met with gales of laughter. Now I can’t wait for football season.

If you don’t like the game, it looks like a bunch of guys pushing each other around to get the ball over a ridiculously high metal bar.

If you like the game, you realize it is a sophisticated chess game with both sides trying to gain an advantage of inches. The finesse with which coaches try to second guess each other and strategize plays in order to gain yards and ultimately a win is something worthy of chess giant Bobby Fischer. I fully realize I just wrote that as a rank football amateur, but that’s ok. The sport takes all comers.

The truth is, I know as much about football as I do about car mechanics – which is nearly zero.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be fascinated by it. I certainly know the major elements of the game. I know about downs and interference. I understand intentional grounding and roughing the passer. Of course, I know what a touchdown is, duh, that was the first lesson. But it’s the skill and knowledge of the players that is so intriguing.

It’s easy to see what they should be doing from our bird’s eye view on the couch. But they are trying to anticipate and execute the plays at eye level through the other guy’s legs and over his shoulders. How on earth do they do that? I know that may be childlike naivete but it amazes me and it’s one reason I enjoy the game.

I am not an athlete – far from it.

I have never played a sport in my life. In fact, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a two-by-four. I can dance, but walking and chewing gum poses a considerable challenge. However, I can live vicariously through the modern-day Hercules on the football field, marveling at their physical prowess, their ability to thread the needle and make amazing catches on the fly.

On the home court, you have to admit, there is something so quintessentially American about the traditional rivalry of high school Thanksgiving football games; Newburyport vs Amesbury, Triton Regional vs. Pentucket, Portsmouth vs. Middletown and all the schools in between. They are some of the most miserable, cold, frost-bitten, muddy games that parents have to endure. Yet, what would Thanksgiving be without them? (How about warm and toasty with dinner served on time?)

I’m not ignoring the controversy over concussions, concussion protocol, and the NFL’s performance, or lack thereof, of the issue. I’m glad that forces have come together to relentlessly push the issue and force policy changes that protect player’s brains.  It shouldn’t even be a debate.

My son and daughter played football.

They started with Pop Warner and played into high school. My daughter tackled two boys at a time in Pop Warner (she didn’t know one was the requisite) and won the powder puff game with some rather aggressive play. I watched every game with awe, enthusiasm and a boatload of anxiety; in large part because my daughter never saw an athletic injury she didn’t have to have.

My son was captain of his football team. He ran onto the field just nine months after a devastating February car accident that broke his pelvis and wrist and lacerated his spleen. The doctors said he might not walk again and certainly wouldn’t play football in his upcoming senior year. He did – all of it.

In fact, now that I write about it, that may be why football is so special to me – it was at the core of my son’s drive to fully recover from an accident that nearly killed him.

That accident changed our family forever. Our timeline is “before the accident” and “after the accident”.  Some say we are lucky. Yes, our family is lucky – very, very lucky to still have him.  I think my son was lucky to have his focus on football, the iron-clad support of his team, and his resilient coach.  I think he was lucky to have the weight room every day, all winter, spring and summer.  A healthy thing to focus on, with some larger than life role models.

That is the silver lining of any sport and for us, it was football.

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About Deborah Chiaravalloti

Deborah is a wise cracking writer with a quick wit who loves Newburyport, raised five children here and served as a VP at Anna Jaques Hospital. Her bread and butter is working as an international healthcare consultant and writer. Her philosophy in life is when all else fails- laugh- nothing else will see us through.

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