Sunday, January 19, 2014

A letter to my mother. About football.

Sunday, January 19, 2014
Dear Mom,
Guess what? I have news to share with you. I’ve become a football fan. Specifically, a Seattle Seahawks fan. I’m not the fanatical paint-your-mailbox-in-team-colors fan, nor do I drink Bud Light in the garage and shout at my TV during the game (like some neighbors we know). Much to my surprise, I have become emotionally invested in my home team’s success. I didn’t really understand how marrying a sports fan would impact me; I expected to host a lot of super bowl parties and get really good at homemade nachos. Instead, I spent all of last weekend worrying about Percy Harvin, who was evaluated twice for a concussion. It was only his second game as a Seahawk; he hasn’t played most of this season due to injury and hip surgery. Within 1 minute of being on the field last Saturday, he was hit hard enough to be pulled to the sidelines. This kid is younger than Alex, and he was hurling his body around like he was a superhero, unaffected by the law of gravity. I never expected football to evoke a mothering instinct in me.
Today we play the San Francisco 49ers. Their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, is a baby-faced punk who looks like he could have used Wisdom Search and Sunday night Popcorn and Books as a kid, if you catch my drift. I get the feeling that his personal appearance is more valuable than character development (harsh criticism coming from a recovering fundamentalist). You’d love the Hawk’s quarterback, Russell Wilson. He’s loaded with character and has proven all the naysayers wrong with his success and leadership of the team (he was a rookie last year and was thought to be too short to be quarterback). He quotes Bible verses on Twitter. During interviews he gives credit to God, his coach and mentor, and his teammates for a winning season.
Plus, the Seahawks have been underdogs for a long time, so being in another playoff game today is really exciting. The last time they were this successful was when they went to the super bowl in 2006. They lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. I remember, even though I had zero interest in football at the time, because I was in Uganda.
The day before the super bowl, I white water rafted down the Nile with a guided group in Jinja (I didn’t tell you about it until afterward so you wouldn’t worry). After the last grade-5 rapid sucked me out of the raft and plunged me underwater for what seemed like a lifetime, I emerged and found my way to the bank of the river. Stunned and dizzy, I had a soda and a snack with the rest of the tour group. A local boy was hanging around the mzungus (white people). I noticed him right away because he had on an oversize T shirt that said SEATTLE across it. I complimented him and told him that was the city I was born in. Another tourist heard me and commented on the upcoming game, announcing he was a Steelers fan.
I look back at that now and marvel at the coincidence: opposing fans half the globe away from home shared a life-threatening adventure but were still segregated by their teams of choice. Teams who would face off within the next 24 hours. At the time, I think I shrugged him off, wondering how this fellow American could think of football of all things. We just rafted the Nile! In AFRICA! Clearly, his priorities were all bungled up.
I wish I had gotten a picture with that boy in the Seattle shirt. Of course my camera was someplace else, safe and dry. If I could relive that particular moment, now that I understand how being a football fan isn’t about priorities so much as it is about identity, I would banter with the Steelers fan and say disparaging things about their coach and quarterback. I would make the boy my personal mascot. I would hold his hand high like a prizefighter and shout “Seattle is the best!! We’re number 1!” I would combine cultural sensitivity and team loyalty all in one.
Now I get the camaraderie of fans. Last weekend on game day, we went to the grocery store for some last minute snacks. Practically everyone there was in a Seahawks’ jersey, 12th man shirt, or blue and green stocking cap. There was a buzz. There was anticipation. There was an unspoken bond among us. As a teenager when I saw strangers commiserating over a team’s loss or celebrating a victory, I thought it was all nonsense. I was convinced it was just posturing among social outcasts (as you’ll recall, I was a tightly wound, judgmental adolescent). Now I know that I was the outcast, unaffiliated with a team and disconnected from other fans.
I miss you, Mom. The best thing about you is that I know exactly how you would react to this story: interest, enthusiasm, laughter. I can see your face smiling.
I love you, Mommy dearest. I think of you often, usually with joy and gratitude, sometimes with sadness. Your mark on me is permanent. I want to make you proud.
Love you so,