Mike began playing organized ball his senior year of high school at the urging of one of the coaches. Coach was drawn to either Mike's large frame or his band uniform - I never could figure out which. He taught Mike how to play the game out of sympathy: Mike was getting his block knocked off at practice because he was a talented trumpeter, but not so much of a football player. He learned fast, and that's all it took.
Love of the game caused him to want more, so he walked on to the junior college team. He played with such heart that, when they were cutting players every Friday, they asked him to report to the office. Instead of a cut, he got a raise. They offered him a full scholarship because Mike played football straight from his toes. And his sophomore year, they were national champs. This earned him a scholarship to a small college in Georgia, where he got distracted by girls with cars, and he lost the most important free ride of them all.
But love for the game never really left him. He coached a few years while paying his own way to college graduation. And he still holds out hope that our large-framed, guitar- and piano-playing son will turn footballer, following in his father's footsteps. But watching football just doesn't do it for Mike. He says, "When you've been the player on the field, being a fan in stands is not very satisfying." So football season around here means nothing.
But it always brings to mind one particular game when I was in college myself. Five freshman took a road trip to see our team play Mississippi State. State is Mississippi's agriculture school, complete with vet classes, chemistry experiments involving soil analysis, and cornfields with grazing cattle. It's no wonder State fans carried cow bells to athletic events.
Abandoning our assigned seats for some reason, we found a sliver of USM fans in that huge stadium just before kickoff, and settled in. My head was already ringing with cowbells. The family in front of us consisted of Mother, Father, and two children about four and six.
Father watched the two children who were utterly unimpressed with the football game. He saw little of the game since he had two mischievous, ice- and coke-covered children to entertain. He seemed undisturbed by his role reversal with his wife.
While Father was busy playing mother, Mother was busy playing fan. From the beginning Mother looked anxious for the game to start, sitting quiet and attentive. She was well prepared in her two pairs of glasses - the inner pair to see the happenings on the field, the outer pair to block the sun. She carried a purse so large it should have needed its own ticket. She gripped it tightly and looked to be guarding it closely. Then we found our why.
Within the first minutes of the game, she reached into the deep regions of that bag and pulled out her very own Mississippi State Bulldogs "Bully Bell." The five of us looked at one another aghast. We could not believe this lady had the audacity to sit with the USM Eagles and cheer on MS State Bulldogs, and with an obnoxious cowbell to boot! Nonetheless, she sat calmly in her seat, cowbell extended high toward heaven, and waved it, loud and proud. Bill, who had wanted to sit in our designated seats from the beginning, lost all control of himself and began screaming, "I TOLD YOU! WHAT DID I SAY? I TOLD YOU!"
Mother cheered through the entire game. She didn't speak or leave her seat - not even through half time. But as wrapped up in the game as she may have appeared, she, in reality, was not. Tension mounted with the score tight, yet she remained calm in her seat, rhythmically ringing her bell, never once reacting emotionally to the game. That bell was supposed to say it all. I could tell that she was routing for State only by the bulldog covering the side of her cowbell. She was not upset by the outcome of the game, even though Mississippi State lost (GO EAGLES!).
I wanted to ask her why she even bothered coming to the game (other than to deafen everyone within a six-seat radius, of course), but I didn't. It wasn't until years later and meeting my ex-football-playing hubby that I realized that some people stand on the sidelines and, with all their might, make as much noise as they can. Some quietly get in the game and, with all their heart, play to win.
Then there's me, who approaches football with neither might nor heart. It's only a game; I just tag along for the ride and for the