Learning Football

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

In honor of the football game today, I am reprinting a humor piece I wrote when I realized that I actually had to learn something about this game – a “game” which I’ve yet to see the radical feminists insist be opened, like the battlefield, to women!

The first play my son had to make in football was to get all the waivers of liability signed without being spotted by the Motherback. He did this. He worked with a man who I usually refer to as “my husband” but, in this case, I will call him “the Co-conspirator.” My son and the Co-conspirator devised a series of maneuvers that ran wide of me throughout July and August. My 14-year-old freshman was crossing the goal line with a football before I knew that there was a football team at his new Catholic high school. I, the Motherback, failed in my defensive position and one of my children, my baby to be precise, is playing football.

Now, I am learning about this form of combat which my son and the Co-conspirator hysterically call a “game.” First, I have learned that there are several backs (beside my back which everyone went behind). There are ¼ backs, ½ backs and running backs. There are some tight backs, too, I think – at least, mine usually is. There are no ¾ backs and no whole backs, but a full back seems close to the latter. There is a defense and an offense but the ¼ backs never play on the defense which is all about blocking and tackling and brutally hitting the person with the ball so that the pigskin flies out of his grip and into the air. That becomes a free pigskin and every single person on the field then must jump upon it and make a pile of bodies. The referees then unpile the persons, slowly, one at a time like pick up sticks, until they find a hopefully breathing human being who has the ball stuffed under his shirt moaning “it’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine.”

A pigskin is the ball my son uses but they don’t call it a ball as in other sports. You use the ball in basketball, for example, to make baskets and you hit the ball in baseball to get to base. In football, the “foots” are most certainly used to run the ball down the yard line and across the goal, but the ball is not called a runningball, yardball or goalball, it’s called a pigskin. I have found this confusing.

There are a lot of calls in football I don’t understand but some of them have to do with interference. There is interference in a pass which seems to be called when a referee is very disappointed that a player did not catch a pigskin thrown really far down the field. I’ve never seen interference on little, dinky passes. There is also interference in a face mask. This seems to be called only when one player grabs the mask portion of another player’s helmet and swings him around until his feet leave the ground or when one player takes his fingers and jabs them through the mask into the other player’s eyes who then screams out loud. The face mask on a helmet and the nose guard on the defense are not related in any way to my knowledge.

I have also learned that five minutes of football is actually 45 minutes of time in the lives of real people. It is critical to learn this early in the season so you have proper supplies. If you say, “I have to go to the bathroom,” most Co-conspirators reply, “but there’s just five minutes remaining so you better wait.” Either you learn to ignore this bald-faced distortion of reality and go ahead to the bathroom or you must wear an adult diaper to all football games. It’s up to you.

Finally, I have learned to bring a prayer book to my son’s football games. The first game, I did not do so and found myself staring obsessively at the ambulance which was waiting for injuries near the visitor’s bench. We were the visitors. I thought it was incredibly unkind of the host team to put the ambulance and two excited paramedics next to my son’s team and I found myself thinking uncharitable thoughts and words. Then one of my son’s teammates got hammered and fell down totally still in the middle of the field. The activated paramedics dashed onto the field to pronounce the player dead, while all of the players kneeled on one knee to pray for his departed soul. I began to sob and realized that I did not have a prayer book with me. But the player miraculously came back to life and everyone clapped.

So far, none of the many injuries I have witnessed have been fatal. In fact, most of them have not required any treatment except ice and applause. I am still puzzling over what is actually an injury and what is not. The large deep blue and purple streaked bruises all over my baby’s arms and shoulders are not, I am told, “injuries” – they are merely caused by the pads which he wears to protect himself from injuries. However, when one of the ½ backs or tight wads gets tired and fakes a leg cramp to limp off the field, the football trainer runs out with a gigantic bag of ice and all of us stand up and clap because he is injured.

Personally, I do not believe that football is consistent with any teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The only overlap between football and the Roman Catholic Church is the Holy Rosary which, along with my prayer book, is as necessary equipment as my son’s helmet and his big number 58 jersey.

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