Sunday, February 10, 2013

Tackle Football

Lately, the favorite game in the house is called "tackle football."

I have no idea how this came about. If you believe that, I have a nice piece of real estate on a faraway planet to sell you.

To play, we congregate in the den and choose teams. Nathaniel and Isaiah, on one side, generally want to be the Beavers, after their Uncle Matt's basketball team. I, the other team, end up being the Raisins, always the opponent, always the enemy, because it is the team that Aunt LeeAnn and her family root for, and the perennial foil to the Patriots.

I stopped writing this post, because, well, I don't remember now. It's a rare uninterrupted moment on a Sunday morning, so let me try to finish this.

So, we have two teams, invariably the Beavers and the Raisins. The goal line is a rug in the library, and  the playing field is the living room, with the sofa and the TV stand forming the sidelines. We have  sweet, squishy Nerf football. Starting on one end, Nathaniel and Isaiah line up on one side, with one of them being the quarterback.

"Hut, Hut, hike," one says. Then he takes the ball and begins running. The other brother, in this case Isaiah, waddles alongside.

Writing timeout: Isaiah has brought me Elmo and Ernie stuffed dolls, and he's now climbed up on a chair and is reaching for a piece of toast. He seems content.

Back to the action. I tackle the ballcarrier, in this case Nathaniel, and the brothers line up again and repeat the sequence. This time, Isaiah is the ballcarrier, and he hugs the ball up high against his chest, grasping it with both hands as he squeals with delight and chugs forward. Daddy executes a gentle takedown, just shy of the rug paydirt.

Third down and goal.

Nathaniel lines up as quarterback/running back, calls the signals and bursts forward. I lunge to make the tackle, miss, and Nathaniel scampers into the end zone. Arms raised, he yells "touchdown!"

High fives are exchanged, and now the Raisins get the ball.

Daddy comes up to the line, surveys the defensive duo, chants "hut, hut, hike" and lurches forward as he "runs" on his knees. Nathaniel plows into his father, shoulder down, knocking him over.

Isaiah piles on with delight after the whistle. Shockingly, no flag is thrown.

Two more plays, two more bone-crunching tackles from the inspired Beavers defense. Daddy's drive is stuffed short of the end zone.

And so on – that is, until Daddy's knees begin to ache, and he calls it quits.


It's just tremendous to be a father and see your boys take pleasure in a game that you yourself enjoy. Lately, Isaiah has been obsessed with what he calls "tackle football,"

Another pause. Nathaniel would like to watch another episode of "My Little Pony." This how I stole those uninterrupted moments. Completely manufactured.

As I was saying, Isaiah has been obsessed with what he calls "tackle football." Any picture he sees of a football player, in a magazine or on TV, gets him chanting for tackle football. Any picture of an athlete in general, regardless of the sport, gets the chant, too. I find this very cute, mainly because it echoes my own love for sports.

This may seem highly premature, but I've already been thinking about what I'll do if my sons want to actually play football. I'm truly split on a decision at this time. On one hand, I really like the game, and I think the boys would, too. Back in high school, I would've loved to play safety and just pop people. So, perhaps there's some vicarious "wish I had done that" going on with letting the boys play.

Yet I'd be a fool if I wasn't aware of the game's dangers, especially as disturbing reports mount of concussions coupled with advances in neuroscience and greater insights into the effect of repeated blows to the head. Who would put his or her child in a situation where such injuries can arise?

Yet what are the odds of my child being seriously hurt playing football, versus other sports, be they basketball, hockey or baseball? And, might there be far better technology, and vigilance, by the time they reach the age at which the violent nature of football becomes the norm?

Most importantly, perhaps, what if either or both of them really want to play? Am in the position to deny them, when I sparked their interest in the first place?

I don't have a good answer for that.

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