It's late fall, and I'm watching my son play football.
Well, OK, he's not technically PLAYING. He's on the sidelines, No. 85, standing near the coach, looking alert, hoping the coach will notice him and send him in. I'm not so sure this is a good idea, because the other team's players are extremely large. They're supposed to be junior-high students, but if they are, they apparently started junior high later in life, after having played a number of years for the Chicago Bears. They look EXTREMELY mature. You can actually see their beards growing. They probably have to shave in the huddle. In stark contrast, my son's team, the Raiders, consists of normal-size 7th-and 8th-grade boys, except for player No. 9, Nicole, who is a girl. From a distance, with their helmets and shoulder pads on, the Raiders look big enough, but this illusion is shattered when you see them up close, or when one of their moms walks past, towering over them.
For some reason the Raiders' opponents are always larger. Also they seem more aggressive. They punch each other a lot and spit and sneer and probably eat live chickens on the team bus. Also they're always gathering together and emitting loud, menacing, unintelligible football roars; whereas the Raiders tend to chat. The Raiders are a more laid-back group. Sometimes they TRY to make a menacing football roar, but it comes out sounding halfhearted, like a group throat-clearing.
This is the Raiders' sixth game. So far they've won one; that victory was sealed when the opposing team, in what has proved to be the Raiders' season highlight so far, failed to show up. The Raiders lost all the other games, in large part because - at least this is how I analyze the situation, from a strictly technical standpoint - they have not scored any points. None.
Usually, when the Raiders have the ball, giant live-chicken-eating Chicago Bears knock them down and take it away. Whereas when the opponents have the ball, they give it to some enormous player who cannot possibly be in junior high school because any given one of his calves is LARGER than a junior high school. This player lumbers toward the plucky Raider defenders, who leap up and latch on to him, one after the other, until the runner is lumbering down the field with what appears to be the entire Raiders defensive unit clinging desperately to his body, the whole group looking like some bizarre alien space creature with many extra heads and arms and legs and two really huge calves.
On the sidelines, we grownups yell helpful advice.
"Tackle him!" a Raiders coach shouts. "Somebody tackle him! OK? OK? Please?"
"Bite his ankles!" a mom shouts.
Inevitably, the Chicago Bears score a touchdown, causing us Raiders parents to groan. The Raiders cheerleaders, however, remain undaunted. They have a cheer for just this situation. It goes (I am not making this cheer up):
"They made a touchdown!
"But it's all right!"
The Raiders cheerleaders remain perky and upbeat no matter what happens in the game. This may be because they wisely refuse to look at the game. They face us parents, going through their routines, happy in their own totally separate cheerleading world. A plane could crash on the field and they might not notice, and even if they did, I bet it wouldn't seriously impact their perkiness. ("A plane crashed on the field! But it's all right!")
Of course, they have good reason to be cheerful. They're in no danger of being converted into gridiron roadkill by the Chicago Bears. My son, on the other hand, is….
MY SON IS GOING INTO THE GAME.
The coach is telling him something; I hope it's good advice (such as, "Tennis is a much safer sport"). And now No. 85 is trotting onto the field; and now he's taking his position on the Raiders defensive line; and now both teams are lined up; and now my son is crouching down in his stance, ready to spring forward, and….
THERE HE GOES! GET 'EM, ROB!! STICK YOUR HELMET COMPLETELY THROUGH SOME BIG FAT CHICAGO BEAR'S BODY AND OUT THE OTHER SIDE!! YES!! WAY TO GO!! WAY TO POUNCE!! WAY TO BE….
OK, so he was a little overeager. But he did fine after that, as far as I could tell, lunging around out there just like everybody else and managing to go four full plays without once losing an important limb or organ. Another positive note was that Nicole got into the game and was actually sort of involved in a tackle, a feat that earned her some major high-fives when she returned to the bench.
But that was pretty much the highlight for the Raiders, who became increasingly resigned and philosophical as it became clear that they were going to lose yet again. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears, feeling smug, were punching each other and emitting fierce victory grunts.
"I BET OUR SAT SCORES ARE HIGHER," I wanted to yell, but, of course, I did not, as I generally prefer not to have my head stomped into pudding.
Finally the game ended, and even though the Raiders again failed to score any points, we parents were tremendously proud of their efforts. We clapped and cheered with pride as they trotted off the field.
They think we're crazy.