A lull has settled over our son and daughter-in-law’s home in Calgary on November 7, 2009. Everyone is resting. After Daniel’s signature spicy skillet and a few hours of Saturday shopping, it’s time for some fortifying shut-eye before a much anticipated late supper at The Garlic Clove.
I won’t be sleeping, though. I pick up my novel, and read a few pages. Not the author’s fault I can’t concentrate. All I can think of is the game. Not just any game. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are playing the Calgary Stampeders for first place in the Western Division of the CFL. They should be in the second quarter by now.
To this point, I am quite proud of myself. I’ve managed to carry on a rather lucid conversation. I haven’t mentioned the game at all, given that I am the lone football fan in the household. My husband never watches sports, and my son has continued the family tradition, a trait which his wife cherishes. In a reversal of roles, I am the football fanatic in the family. In fact, I had no intention of even mentioning the game. After all, I can watch football any time, but I don’t often have the opportunity to visit with my adult children who live in adjacent provinces. I had steeled myself before the trip; I am prepared to forego the telecast, and read all about the game in the morning. I had "conditioned my mind," as my father would say.
Now, however, it’s quiet in the house. I am the only one downstairs. Would it be so bad if I stole a few surreptitious glimpses of the game while they are resting? I move from the sofa to the TV stand, looking about for any sign of life. Still quiet. Why do I feel so guilty, as if I am checking my email or texting during a conversation. Now, this could get complicated. I see three remotes, a DVD player, and a few other black boxes I can’t identify. I match up the remote brand to the TV, and find the volume button. That way, as soon as I press Power, I can lower the volume so I don’t get caught. I hear the click and whoosh of the TV powering up. Bingo. Now, I scroll through the listings to find TSN. Eureka—I have the game. The challenge now will be to cheer or wail on mute.
Twenty minutes into my viewing, Daniel comes downstairs. A little abashed, I fill him in on the critical nature of the game, to rationalize my actions. He settles on the sofa beside me to watch, and we chat as ball possession changes hand. Things look good for the Riders, so far. A few minutes later, his wife joins us. She is shocked. Daniel never watches sports.
"Dan, are you watching sports?"
"It’s not sports." I interject. "It’s the Riders."
I don’t watch sports, either. But I am a Rider addict. I love football. This makes no sense because:
· I don’t watch any other sports;
· I despise violence;
· I even stopped watching hockey because of the fighting;
· I can’t imagine the immediate and latent damage of the hits on those bodies;
· I don’t even watch NFL football. The game is too easy—four downs and a narrower field, come on.
· I think professional athletes receive obscene salaries. CFL players are a curious exception to this rule—they play for the love of the game, not for the millions.
In the hierarchy of Rider fans, I rank somewhere near the bottom, a rung above the fair-weather fans who abandon ship when the going gets tough. After all,
· I don’t often make it to a game (I can’t use the three-hour return road trip as an excuse—Rider fans drive three times as far for games without batting an eye);
· I have never donned a watermelon helmet;
· I don’t paint my face or dye my hair green for games;
· I have never met any of the players;
· I rarely tweet or comment on the Rider Facebook page.
However, I am known to :
· schedule cooking or computer work to coincide with football games so I can watch and work at the same time;
· cheer madly;
· track player and coach interviews;
· watch the highlights (sometimes several times);
· read and view all the TSN articles, blogs, and clips;
· monitor the statistics sheets;
· scour the Leader Post blogs and articles;
· transfer from TV to radio to listen to the post-mortem of the game, The Point After. on CJGX;
· follow the 7 other teams as well.
So, what’s so fascinating about football? For me, it is often a metaphor for life. Cases in point:
· There is strength in numbers. A small province like Saskatchewan, with a population of just over a million people, can support a thriving professional football franchise because the entire province bleeds green (see nine-hour road trips, above). The spirit of Rider Nation makes it happen.
· Former Rider coach Ken Miller’s mantra: Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, and do what you’re supposed to do when you’re there. Really useful in the classroom, too.
· Axiom: The best quality in a quarterback is a short memory. When something goes wrong, forget about it, and don’t let it contaminate the next play.
· Heart, effort, and discipline trump talent.
· Play the entire 60 minutes. Stay focused, play hard the whole way. The great job you did in the first half can be erased in three minutes or less.
· Hubris lives. If you succomb to arrogance, it will come back to bite you.
· Use your notoriety to be an exemplary role model, and give back to your community. Thank you, Riders, for your generosity.
My football addiction has paid unexpected dividends, as well.
· It’s a great conversation starter, especially because somehow people are surprised to learn I know a lot about football.
· I have used the Riders and their current status in more than one classroom lesson and teacher workshop introduction.
· Decades ago, I recognized a parent coming in for his son’s kindergarten parent-teacher conference as a former Rider. When I asked him if he had played in the playoff game when Ed McQuarters returned a fumble for a touchdown in the dying minutes, he stared at me for a few seconds, and then slowly nodded. The interview went well.
We did make it to The Garlic Clove for a wonderful dinner, those four years ago, on the heels of a Rider victory. As the Riders sit 2-0 today, after a very impressive win over Calgary on Saturday, I have every intention of feeding my CFL and Rider addiction. I live in Rider Nation, after all.