Tag Archives: football

Observations from the field

Two-finger applause only, please.

There’s nothing quite like watching your kids play high school sports. It’s a highly emotional situation for parents, who experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, as if they were competing themselves.

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with expressing oneself in this new age; however, each sport has its own unwritten rules governing the behavior of spectators, and problems can arise when parents don’t conform to the unique standards for each sport.

For example, we’ve been high school football parents for three years now, and I’m pretty sure we’ve mastered football’s spectator rituals.

On Friday nights, we proudly wear our 100% nylon mesh replica jerseys, emblazoned with our son’s number. We don’t eat before the game, preferring to get dinner from the concession stand, where a balanced game night meal consists of a hamburger or hot dog (protein), chips with nacho cheese (dairy), and ketchup (vegetable.) A blue raspberry Sno Kone rounds out the meal (fruit). Once seated in the bleachers, we try to resist any aerobic activity for the next two hours, other than arm flailing and hitting the restroom at halftime.

During game play, parents are encouraged to outwardly express and exaggerate any feelings of pride, exhilaration, disappointment, or anger. It is commonplace and expected of parents to hoot, holler, and shout expletives that might otherwise be considered obnoxious or unkind.

Some examples might include, “Hey, that’s MY kid! Woohoo!” yelled while pointing repeatedly at the player. Or, “Take that you LOSERS!” directed to the opposing team while making rude spanking gestures. Or, “Hey Ref — I’ve seen potatoes with better eyes than you!” most effective when screamed with a mouthful of half chewed hot dog.

However, not every high school sport has the same rituals. We learned this lesson the hard way when our freshman daughter joined the Cross Country team this year.

After getting up in the middle of the night so that we could be at an away meet for the 8:00 am start time, we arrived at the course groggy and confused.

There were no bleachers to sit on — just hoards of leggy teenagers milling about on tarps laid out in a grass field. As we searched for our daughter’s team, we could not help but notice that there were no foam fingers or tacky nylon mesh to be found. The other parents looked like they were runners too, wearing trendy, moisture-wicking spandex and thermo-regulating micro-fleece sportswear.

We heard no cowbells or air horns – only two-finger golf clapping and the faint tweet of birds in the distance. We could smell no grilled pork products or locker room odors – only fresh air and a hint of cappuccino.

We never felt more lost and alone.

We heard the crack of a starting pistol, and next thing we knew, our daughter whizzed by us, among the pack. No sooner did the runners pass, than the crowd of parents started sprinting through a trail in the woods. We weren’t sure if there was a grizzly bear attacking us, or a clearance sale at the Pottery Barn, but we followed along.

The jog led us to our next observation point, where my husband and I breathlessly yelled, flailed and gestured, “Hey, that’s our kid! C’mon Honey! Make ‘em eat your dirt!”  The looks on the other parents’ faces made it clear that our exuberance was not appreciated.

After two more sprints to observation points, the race was over, and we found ourselves two-finger golf clapping with everyone else. All that sprinting left my husband and I famished and in search of the nearest deep-fat fryer. Unfortunately, the only food available was granola bars, and they were for the team.

On the way home, while waiting in the drive-thru for a #7-With-Bacon-Go-Large, I realized that we’d learned some valuable lessons about becoming cross-country parents. First, spectating this sport requires either an all terrain vehicle with GPS navigation, or a personal defibrillator. Second, unless someone starts deep-frying granola, always keep a bag of Funions and a six-pack of Squirt in the glove box to combat hunger.

And lastly, we shouldn’t worry if we don’t fit in right away. It’s easy to take the parents out of the football game, but it might take a while to get the football game out of the parents.

Granola doesn’t cut it.

Seventh Heaven

As Steeler fans everywhere anticipate upcoming Superbowl XLV, my mind can’t help but wander to football seasons past, when “Stairway to Seven” held an entirely different meaning.

It was a typical Western Pennsylvania winter weekend in 1976, and my family was nestled inside our little house on the dead end of North Seventh Street in my hometown. My pork-chop-side-burned father was glued to the console television from his pea green lounge chair, a Salem 100 burning in the adjacent stand-alone ashtray.

My aproned mother bopped in and out of the room from the kitchen, where she was cooking up football food with beef, pork or venison, and enough onions, garlic and beans to guarantee a prolonged case of gas and bad breath.

From the scratchy olive carpeting, I propped my head upon my hands, stared into the television and sighed. The single earphone from my groovy yellow Panasonic Toot-A-Loop transistor radio emanated Myron Cope’s characteristic caw. Turning the dial in search of soft sets of Barry Manilow or Captain & Tennille, I could only find Jimmy Pol’s Steeler’s Polka.

With all the talk of Bradshaw, Greene and Bleier, my brother and I would eventually get bored, and often whined and begged until our parents to let us walk “Downtown” by ourselves.

Peeking out from under our stocking Steeler hats with gold pom-poms, and wrapped tightly in our Franco’s Italian Army scarves, my brother and I set off up North 7th Street to town. 

We looked like the spawn of a rail yard hobo and a bag lady in our mismatched getups, but in Steeler country, our outfits were the norm.  It seemed like everyone had a Steeler stocking hat in those days, except women who did not want to mess up their shag, and even those ladies wore a miniature crocheted replica, pinned to their wide lapels or on their sweater vests.

Crossing the crooked part of Chestnut, Seventh Street rose up before us, and the houses on either side got bigger and fancier.  At the summit, the street came to a graceful end atop Vinegar Hill, and offered a municipal staircase for pedestrians to descend the steep cliff leading down to the center of town. My brother and I paused at the top of the long cement steps and silently contemplated our escapade.

To us, “Downtown” might as well have been the Las Vegas Strip. There were so many lights and sounds, so much trouble to get into.

As we descended the long staircase, I was eager to see the pretty pink and green neon emblazoned One Hour Martinizing.  My mouth watered at the thought of the penny candy counter at G.C. Murphy & Company, with its bins of sugary drops wrapped in cellophane.  I wondered how long it would take my brother to pick a comic book at The News Stand, from the display of Sad Sack, Richie Rich, Casper and Archie. I hoped we’d sip a hot cocoa or some birch beer at The Capitol, its tables caked underneath with colorful blobs of chewed gum.

Reaching the bottom of the staircase, we dashed across Water Street and approached the main thoroughfare of town. Hearing the clanging bell of the cross walk, we ran to beat the traffic light.

Safely across, my brother huffed white clouds and strained to see the courthouse clock. Although I was happy to stroll and glance at the glitzy storefronts, my brother had an agenda, and he didn’t want to be late. 

Of the two movie theaters in town, The Manos was my favorite. The marquis seemed encrusted in blinking crystalline lights, and the metal sheathed ticket booth gleamed in reflected glow. The afternoon matinee was a double feature – “All Monsters Attack” and “Godzilla Versus The Smog Monster.”

Tickets in hand, we followed the isle lights along the rows of velvety seats down toward the old orchestra pit.  The matinee crowd, consisting mainly of adolescent boys and their younger siblings, was noisy, sticky and generally unruly. Ensconced in the cozy warmth of the red seats, we still left our Steeler hats on to guard against spit balls and flying Jujubes.

The crowd hushed as the lights went down and the screen came to life with The Road Runner.  Our faces glowed vibrantly with ambient light as we watched Wyle Coyote foil another plot to blow up his nemesis with Acme dynamite.

Much to my dismay, the cartoon was over in a flash, and I was soon cowering behind the seat while Godzilla’s son, Minya, and tiny Ichiro Miki with his yellow ball cap ran in terror from Ebirah the mutant shrimp. Unable to look at the screen, I clamped my eyeslids shut and pulled my hat down over my nose.

Two hours later, my brother jabbed me in the shoulder to wake me up.

In a rare act of kindness, my brother used the rest of his allowance to buy us square Tom’s Pizza slices. We sat at a turquoise Formica table and gazed at the Greek mural on the wall.

Taking the shortcut through G.C. Murphy’s, we stopped at the candy counter, where I bought four Pixie Sticks, three root beer barrels and some Wax Lips with the two dimes I dug from the pocket of my hand-me-down Garanimals twill pants.

Our adventure complete, we headed back to the Vinegar Hill stairway to North Seventh Street, and to the warmth of our comfy little house, with its console television blaring the latest news about Bradshaw and Swan.

The Steelers went on to beat the Cowboys in Superbowl X that winter, and our parents were thrilled. But my brother and I always knew that, right out side our front door, we could find the same thrill and excitement. No matter who was winning the football game, our “Stairway to Seventh” would lead us high and low, to bright lights and big adventures.

Like Grandma’s Golumpki

My family is stationed overseas. Most days, this is kinda cool. But on Sundays during football season, it really stinks.

I left Pennsylvania 17 years ago to marry a Navy man, and my life as a die-hard Steeler fan has never been the same.

First, in Washington, D.C., we weren’t accustomed to foo-foo tailgate foods like smoked salmon canapés, baked brie, and wine spritzers. We longed for our beloved Steeler fare of hot sausages (made of venison if someone in the family got a buck that season,) pierogies, wing dings, pickled eggs, and Pennsylvania beer.

In California, we watched east coast games sipping coffee in our pajamas, while fans back home donned the usual Steeler garb — boots, jerseys and jackets embellished with hunter’s fluorescent orange.

While stationed in England, we were not able to watch one football game for three straight years. Our loved ones back home where waving their Terrible Towels, but we were relegated to watching snooker and cricket on The BBC. 

In Virginia Beach, we viewed football in air conditioned comfort and cut the grass during half time, instead of settling down to the game after raking leaves or snow plowing the driveway.

Now that we live in Germany, we’re lucky if we get to see a game at all, with or without pickled eggs. 

Every once in a while, Armed Forces Network mercifully airs a live Steeler game, and long lost fans like me whip our selves into a frenzy. We layer our bodies in black and gold. We call every Steeler fan on base to chat excitedly about the upcoming game. We plop ourselves in front of the tube at kick off and stuff ourselves with pork products, gooey dips and copious amounts of corn chips.

But due to the six hour time difference between Germany and the U.S. East Coast, the live games start quite late if not in the middle of the night. Despite our best intentions, we often don’t make it to the fourth quarter.

This year, we thought streaming the games on the internet would be the perfect solution to our fan frustrations. However, this required our family of five to cram into our small base housing bedroom (the only internet connection) and squeeze our substantial frames onto a full-sized bed, only to strain our eyes to see the pixilated game footage on our computer screen. Add bowls of chili, beverages and corn chips, and our bed was more like a Salad Shooter.

Misery loves company, they say, and strangely, we’ve always had company. There are Steeler fans all over the world. 

We’ve spotted them in Yosemite, Las Vegas, Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks, Amsterdam, Venice, Paris and Prague. 

When we find each other, it’s like meeting an old friend, slipping into a favorite pair of jeans, having a taste of Grandma’s Golumpki. It is familiar, comforting, nostalgic, and gives you that warm feeling inside. You are not alone.

Every time, we offer a knowing smile and murmur, “Go Stillers” in hopes of making their acquaintance. And every time, our fellow Steeler fans respond with a friendly Pittsburgheese chat.

Last fall in Paris, we were ogling one of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral paintings in Musee D’Orsay, when we spotted another couple donning Steeler shirts over by Whistler’s Mother. We couldn’t just let them go by without saying hello. That would be like leaving the frat party while your roommate is in the bathroom, like retreating when a fellow soldier is behind enemy lines, like spotting the lifeboat but flying on by.

“Go Stillers!” we whispered, hoping to leave the rest of the stuffy museum crowd undisturbed. The couple, who were looking rather confused at the infamous painting, turned their heads and smiled, glad to hear their mantra spoken in American English 7,000 miles from home.

We struck up an instant conversation, no awkward pauses, no idle chitchat, no pretenses. It was easy, like we knew them from somewhere before.

They were headed to dinner at a sports bar in Paris that was airing the Steeler game later that evening. We were impressed. Those were true fans. They invited us to come along, but we had to catch the train back to Germany. We bid our fellow fans adieu, and cheered quietly in unison “Here we go Steelers, here we go!”

No matter where we go in this great big world, Steeler fans are there, with their hats, t-shirts, and Terrible Towels. They might be strangers, but we know them. They wear black and gold no matter how unattractive. They make chili even when they need a transformer to plug in their Crock Pot. They watch the games at inconvenient times, in uncomfortable places. They speak our language. They are our family. 

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