Cassondra Bird Combs offers a touching paean to NFL Sundays.
I believe in sweat. I believe in commercial cigarette breaks. I believe in yelling, screaming fans isolated in bars, in houses, driving in cars yelling at their radio, pounding on the steering wheel on the way to somewhere where they can watch the game.
I believe in football.
For the past three seasons I have lived in places without obvious team affiliations. When you live in San Francisco, your team is the 49ers. When you’re holed up in Whitefish, Montana for ski season, you find out which screen will be showing your team and are soon surrounded by the eight other Niners fans in town. You watch as the bar becomes geographically divided into tiny cities of fans. I’ll admit the Packers fans take up a good half of the bar, and the Steelers and Seahawks fans hold a lot of ground, but groups of red shirts are magnetized together in the corner, rooting for the Chiefs. The Dolphin contingency is huddled together by the pool tables.
On Sundays I would eat a big breakfast in preparation for the day, and often make a batch of cookies to stow away in my purse and share with other people wearing red and gold. Then I would bundle myself against the snow for the 15-minute walk to my seat in front of the screen that I could count on to show me the Niners. And in Montana, in a tiny corner of these United States, I would cheer and yell with a bar full of crazy animalistic fans, rooting for teams hundreds of miles away. Because fans don’t need a city to be fans.
When you’re in Madrid, and you have to stay up until 5 a.m. to watch your team make it into the playoffs, the friends you find in the only bar near Sol showing your football game become an immediate, close, needed family. A friend from home is a salve for your homesickness, watching your team almost make it.
Today I believe in the loud-yelling, PBR-swilling corner bar in Portland, Oregon where I now reside on Sundays. (And yes, damnit, there are still more Packers fans than any other team. Why are there so many Packers fans?) I believe in the tiny screen in the corner surrounded by people in Patriots shirts, I believe in the bartender in her classic Montana 16 jersey who feels like she’s the only San Francisco fan in her bar. I believe in the friendly animosity of people rooting for opposing teams, but still buying each other a beer at the end of the game when somebody inevitably loses. (Well, that “inevitable” isn’t quite true—see last year’s ties.)
When I was little I would sit on my daddy’s lap on Sundays while the game was on, listening to him and my uncle Dug discuss every move made, until of course something great or terrible happened, when I would go crashing to the floor as my father leapt to his feet yelling expletives at the television, or “TOUCHDOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWN.” I don’t think enough capital letters exist to show how long my dad could make that word last, how big and loud it comes barreling out of him.
I believe in my father, who only played through high school but knows the names of every play when the Niners set up. My father, who now that TV allows you to do so, will pause and rewind to excitedly describe the intricate movements that each player made to make that play run smoothly. I believe in watching sports with your dad, that while I’m far away from him now, each Niners touchdown makes me think of my father, and when he’s gone, every Sunday I’ll think of him, every play that I understand because he explained it to me. I believe one day I’ll have a son who will watch football with me. Or a daughter. I’ll probably love a daughter too.
I believe in dropped balls, missed passes, incompletions and interceptions, sacks, somehow fouled-up extra points that turn a game the opposite direction from where you thought it was going. I believe in football. I believe in Saturday mornings, because my first thought waking up is always, “Tomorrow’s SUNDAY”. On Sundays, in my little corner bar I’m so happy I often feel like crying (because I am a bit of a crier). Thank you, 2013, for making it through all the shit to the part of the year that really matters: football season. Thank you, yes you, and everyone, and God and the universe and everything, for football Sundays.
If only I could hibernate the other six months of the year.