The hot sun had already gone to work, as tiny beads of sweat began to form along my brow, typical inWest Texaseven at 9:30 in the morning. And under the cloudless blue sky that Saturday there was a middle school football game about to start, the winner advancing to the playoffs.
As one might expect, there were parents and students in lawn chairs, a pep band, multiple concession stands, and cheerleaders with enough spirit to make a TGI Fridays hostess appear comatose. And I stood there taking it all in until I came to a sudden realization: for the first time in my life I was at a sporting event where I had no vested interest in what transpired on the field whatsoever.
When I was a sportswriter I had the luxury of courtside, ringside, the 50-yard line, the finish line, backstage, the locker room and the front row. As a fan my attention has always been between the lines, obsessing over line-ups, injuries, coaching decisions, second-guessing those decisions and, of course, cheering on my teams with the passion one might see in a Mexican soap opera.
Yet here I was, at a football game to watch my daughter cheer, not giving a damn about the score or why the coach was calling horrible plays (who goes for it on fourth down inside their own 30-yard line?).
I don’t know how to cheer for those who cheer. And as I looked around at the other fathers, it was obvious that they didn’t, either. They were just there keeping watch, like warrior lions looking over a pride, staring down any boy who looked too long or strayed too close to their daughters.
Cameron turned around and smiled at me. Good. She knows I’m here, I thought. Now what do I do? In my case you observe other people through cheap sunglasses, let the mind wander for a little while.
For some reason my focus turns to the smallest player on the field, the kid whose sloppy football pants has to be held up by white tape. I was that same kid in middle school, without a doubt. Come to think of it, I was that kid in high school, too. I wasn’t blessed with the size that my older brother had. He was the man-child who wore size 13 shoes at the age of 13.
I smile as I see the small player with the oversized helmet run on and off the field, if only to pick up the tee after ever kickoff.
A short while later Cameron and the rest of her cheer squad kneel in silence, as trainers tend to a banged up kid favoring his left arm. You should have thrown the ball away, I thought. Reaching the sidelines, the kid takes his helmet off, his face a twisting, red scowl of pain.
Ah, pain. My mind wanders to what my doctor told me to look out for a few days ago and even embrace, ironically.
“Ooh, does it hurt?” he asked, looking down my swollen throat with his nose wrinkled as if he’d just seen a dog shit on his lawn. “It does, huh? Then that’s a good thing.”
He went on to tell me that cancer is a silent killer that doesn’t hurt. And like a good doctor (and because of my age) he told me that it was a fantastic idea to play with my testicles. Really, he did.
Here’s a quick public service announcement for any guy who has discovered a lump or growth on his sack: squeeze the hell out of it. If it hurts, you’re probably good (just a little weird). If it doesn’t hurt, RUN, to your doctor. Mine are fine, by the way.
Speaking of ball sacks, why is it that at every sporting event there’s “that guy” who needs to berate the kids, the coaches and the refs? I laugh at how other people in the crowd carefully slide away from him, he with the gold chain and skin tight Under Armor shirt.
And speaking of skin-tight, why is that some of these mothers…
“Phillip!” Cameron ran towards me with a smile. “Did you see me cheer?”
Yes, the game; the cheering.
“I didn’t miss a thing!”