This past month, as the days got shorter and the sun rose later, my 11-year-old son got sadder and sadder. Getting off the bus on the last day of day camp, he knew the first day of school was not far behind. Like many, he is a kid that counts down to summer—the nirvana of childhood, all play, no books or enforced bedtimes. The thought that it would be over 250 days until the next summer vacation was just too much to bear.
I wasn’t sure when I would see his big broad smile again…Then he heard the music, and his eyes lit up. He says that just those first few bars of the theme song send tingles down his spine. It is the bright spot of September for many, and it can be summed up in just six words: Are you ready for some football?
Yes, the fall brings homework and tests, but it also brings tackles and touchdowns. The swimsuits get packed up, and the jerseys come out. The new Madden NFL 16 for Xbox is available at GameStop (and other fine retailers). Five days of school are worth a Sunday of games, not to mention Monday and Thursday night games and college games on Saturday.
When I was a kid, my dad was a big football fan. Every week, he would place bets on the games with his friend Jeff. He would pour through the New York Daily News sports section looking at the games and the point spreads. Then on Sunday, he would spend all day in front of the TV set screaming, shouting and basically losing his mind alongside my two brothers. If things did not go their team’s way, they would be in a bad mood all night. I never really got the game or the obsession. It seemed like a time waste, and a very violent one at that.
Once I got married, my husband seemed to enjoy football, but not with the same intensity of my dad. He liked to watch, but unless it was a big game, he didn’t make Sundays off-limits for other plans. Things continued like this after we had our two daughters. Then our son arrived.
At first, it was a smart approach to parenting. With three kids, we divided and conquered on the weekends. Saturdays, he was more than willing to take any of the sports obligations or party drives necessary for the girls. But on Sundays, he volunteered to stay home with the baby. I would find him on the couch “watching” the baby with a remote in one hand and the monitor in the other. The baby turned into a toddler and joined him on the couch, but mostly so he could partake in eating potato chips without Mom’s watchful eye.
When my son was 7, Nickelodeon faded out, and ESPN took over as his morning routine. Just like my dad, my son started pouring over stats and scores. But it was even more intense than just reading one newspaper cover to cover;technology made it possible to devour sports 24/7. He begged my husband to order NFL RedZone so that he could watch every game at the same time.
That same year, 2009, he fell in love with the Jets (one of the only two years in recent history you could) as they went all the way to play-offs. Our good friend, a lifelong Jets fan, explained to him that this was not the “real” Jets that he was rooting for, and that to be a Jets fan, he would face much disappointment. And he has. There have been some teary Sunday nights and some hard bus rides Monday morning surrounded by Giants fans. But now at age 11, he has discovered that fantasy teams soften the blow (which is why he has three).
With all the constant sports TV and talk, I myself have learned quite a bit about a sport I never really cared about. Recently, I was talking football with my dad, and he said he could not understand how I became such a sports fan when I always thought it was so silly and boring. I explained that I am still not a fan of sports, but I am a fan of my son. If waking up and immediately checking the scores is a way to connect with him (and figure out what jerseys he will be willing to wear to school), I am happy to do it.
Watching ESPN with my son has also given me an opportunity to teach him some valuable lessons. The world of professional sports is filled with many positive stories of courage and determination. Nothing could illustrate that you should never give up better then the Patriots winning last year’s Super Bowl in the last seconds of the game. Conversely, sports, especially football, have been filled with controversy and topics I wish my son was not privy to at such a young age, but my husband and I have tried to use these scandals as teaching moments. Football has opened up hard conversations about bad sportsmanship, cheating and drug use. And I appreciate the way watching football and talking about it connects me to my son, especially as he approaches his teen years.
So, am I ready for some football? You bet. I have the chips, salsa and a tissue box waiting!
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