Back in August, my pa-in-law was seated on the smooshy brown loveseat and facing a decision. “Should we order NFL Sunday Ticket?”
I looked up. “Would that mean we could see all the Packers games?”
Bill nodded significantly.
“Well, if we got the NFL Sunday Ticket, I wouldn’t have to find a Packer-backer bar. I could just hang here in my jammies and make snacks for everybody.”
Said Bill with gravity, “It’s decided.”
I never thought I’d tip the scales towards the purchase of a cable TV football package. Growing up in central Wisconsin, I was surrounded by pigskin enthusiasts. I was often the contrarian; as my classmates would filter in to our 3rd grade classroom with their Packers Starter jackets, I remember secretly wishing for a Cowboys coat. I think I would’ve been punched at recess. My dad had what amounted to a Packers man-shrine in his apartment. For the most part, I rolled my eyes and felt like the Other. And ate mixed nuts and chips and dip and took epic naps on Sunday afternoons.
I’m not sure when the switch flipped. I think I finished college and got myself into a fairly standard specialty medical office and realized that so many of my coworkers had Strong Feelings about the Vikings. These rural Minnesotan medical assistants, receptionists, and nurses were all “talking football,” and often the subject was one of the only topics they could share with the docs. As we approached the playoffs, the office would have Team Spirit Day, and the nurses would wear the ugliest scrubs I had ever seen.
I made a comment to Jesse during our first football season together–something about dumb jocks in Kevlar body armor. And he said, “You try throwing a ball to a guy running as fast as he can 50 yards away through the arms of a bunch of ogres who want nothing more than to crush you. That actually takes some skill.” I thought about that for a year.
And then I think I had the experience that put me over the edge and into football’s camp: I had a clinical rotation on a pediatric oncology unit in nursing school. Celebrities would come through every so often to visit the kids, sign autographs, and provide some much needed cheer and diversion to the wee patients and their families. From the Captain Jack Sparrow impersonator to Taylor Swift, these visits caused a buzz on the unit. Kids who felt like shit would get a chance to focus on something other than their chronic tummyaches and mortality. One day, Ben Leber, a Vikings linebacker, came to visit the floor. He’s a big strapping Korean-American dude (about Jesse’s size, actually, but with a tree trunk for a neck) with a wide smile, and after he visited with one of our little football-loving pale bald 3 year-olds with AML… he cried. He stood at the nurse’s station and got emotional.
Yup. My heart, in that moment, melted for the NFL.
I was caring for an adolescent boy, essentially paralyzed from the shoulders down, with whom I sat for half an hour while his mom ran out to grab some lunch. I had no idea what to say to this kid, and I *always* knew how to find common ground and make small talk with my patients. I asked him what his favorite subject was in school and then promptly ran out of ideas. And then I remembered–the Leber visit! I brought it up and asked if he got to meet the Viking, and with an excited yelp this child told me all about how much he loves the Vikings, and how he got a picture with Ben Leber and had him sign his purple and gold-painted back brace. We talked about Favre and his infamous team flip-flop. “He just wants to play football,” I remember my patient saying compassionately in Favre’s defense. Football took us from awkward silence to vibrant connection. I told him about how Jesse’s fantasy football team had done the previous weekend; he told me about his. “So Sundays and Mondays are probably your favorite days,” I said. “I always want God to just hurry up the rest of the week,” came the reply. I hugged him as well as you can hug a quadriplegic kid in a traction device.
So it’s a common denominator, if only in this country. Over the last year I’ve found myself more and more interested. There are no plot twists with which to keep up. The commentators are hilariously stupid. There’s the expected violence, but no more. Each player has a story. Many of them not only play the game but bring silly antics with them.
And I’ve found that seeing the green and gold up on the big screen gives me warm fuzzies. Watching the Packers now at 25 indulges a childhood pleasure I never let myself acknowledge when I was 10.
So. We have the NFL Sunday Ticket. My cats have football jerseys. This is where I live.