I love football. I just wanted to put that out there before I said anything more about it. I’ve loved it since my Dad and I watched the Edmonton Eskimos from the “new” Commonwealth Stadium, in the late 70s. He got season’s tickets and we would huff and puff up those cement stairs, to our seats, on the aisle, about three rows from the top.
“Geez, Dad, how come we can’t get tickets a little further down?” As I’d collapse into the seat (and take off my oxygen mask and crampons).
(Google Earth snapshot of the stadium, and where our seats were)
He’d just smile, light up a cigarette (you could do that in the open air stadiums back then), and say, “No, hen, then you couldn’t see the PLAYS develop. Up here you can see all of what’s going on. I don’t need to see their faces, I’m interested in the big picture.”
So there it was. I learned to watch the Offensive Line shifts, the audibles, the shotgun, the fantastic way the CFL is that the Wide Receivers can be in motion towards the line of scrimmage before the play starts, and the intertwining of routes making their way down the field. It became more about the team, and their progress, than individual efforts.
Of course, the Canadian playing field is 10 yards longer and almost 12 yards wider. It really does avail a more wide-open game. And just 3 downs to get the job done? Difficult. Really difficult. 1st down, you get a few yards, 2nd down, you don’t quite make it, you’re a yard or two short? That’s it, you gotta punt or try for a field goal. Your offense has to be a little more effective and on the ball (pardon the pun). Even my husband has been brought over to the CFL side and marveled at its expansive, fast-paced beauty. (That is, when our provider actually decides to show the games on its Canadian affiliate).
And don’t hit the goal posts! They are positioned at the front of the end zone (which is 20 yards deep instead of the NFL 10).
Commonwealth Stadium is also where my Dad taught me about sportsmanship. Like any eleven or twelve-year old, I had developed deep loyalty (read: crushes) on many of the players on the football team and would defend them to anyone. One year, during the Labour Day (and yes, it IS spelled with a “u”, thank you) series between the Esks and bitter provincial rivals the Calgary Stampeders, on a glorious, prairie Fall Sunday afternoon, with a huge bright blue sky above, I nearly had smoke coming out of my ears at one of the more vociferous, and quite drunk, Stampeder supporters.
He must have been, maybe, eighteen (at least, because he was drinking a stadium beer and the legal age is eighteen), lithe, shirtless, hairless (his chest), with the feathered/banged dirty blonde shoulder-length hairdo popular then. He was tanned and had sun crinkle lines on his face that made me think he worked outdoors. His team jersey was tucked in to the back of his jeans, and the red shirt hung past his bum crack and down to his knees.
Any time, and I do mean ANY time, the Stamps made any kind of good play, he would stand up, beer in hand, and turn around to the crowd above him and just gloat, eyes narrowed, mouth set in a “mmm-hmmm!”, while his other hand displayed an index finger jutting skyward in a “#1” motion.
It was about all I could stand. I wanted to throw my pop at him (pop being my Coke, in a big plastic cup). My Dad saw the steam coming out of my ears and said, “What’s wrong?” I answered, “That dumb guy is making me so MAD! I just want to throw this at him and show him how WRONG he is!”
My Dad’s eyes softened and he made that funny little noise he made when he was amused, that wasn’t quite a laugh, but a hard outward snort through the nose (I’m pretty sure it’s a distinctive Scottish trait, but I could be wrong), and said to me, “No, wee Neecy, he paid his money just like everyone else for his ticket, and he’s allowed to cheer for whoever he wants to. You’ve got to respect that, and don’t let it get to you. Just enjoy the game, even if your team isn’t winning.”
I was a little too young to grasp the gratitude he was expressing for, again, the big picture. The aforementioned beautiful day, spending time with his daughter, surrounded by people who were (mostly) on the same side cheering. Glorious. I was a lucky little girl.
The intent of this particular blog was to talk about how difficult it’s getting to watch American football every week – with the rage, the injuries after practically every play, and the poor sportsmanship shown a lot of times by the players – having to humiliate and subjugate the other player that they’ve tackled, or ended up on top of. I find it really crude that after a play, the defensive guy will pretty much get up from the feet of the player he’s tackled, and walk OVER him to make sure that the player on the ground sees defensive guy as the Alpha Male, and gets a face-full (or facemask-full) of his obviously superior junk. Why don’t you just pee on him too? (Would that be a penalty? How many yards?)
But, I will leave that rant for another day… I have too much of a good feeling going on now, thinking about those truly halcyon days of watching football with my Dad, the lessons I learned from him, and from the game, and strolling down memory lane.
To me, that’s what professional sports should do – unite the people of the City and show us how alike we all are, and not focus on the differences we have. Go ahead, you may say I’m a dreamer.