The other night, we watched the Super Bowl. Sometimes, I watch it for funny commercials if I don't have a favorite team in the matchup. But this time, the ads paled in comparison to the game itself -- an epic battle of long passes, incredible catches, daring runs, and even a lucky bounce. It reminded me of the first time someone helped me understand what was so compelling about a simple football game.
In high school, I was a baton twirler for our little marching band, so I'd been to plenty of football games. But I never understood it. All I really knew was that I should cheer if our guys ran into the end zone. The rest of it remained a mystery.
It was the '80s, and I spent most of the game thinking up ways to get my bangs to defy the laws of gravity even more than they already were.
When I went to college, I auditioned to be a twirler for the university's huge marching band and was lucky enough to earn a spot on the line with 11 other girls. The first day I stepped into that enormous college stadium, my jaw dropped. I stood there speechless, suddenly realizing that football at the college level was a very big deal -- both physically and figuratively.
During the first few college games, I sat next to another twirler who'd grown up watching the sport and knew the game well. She let me ask a million dumb questions and answered each one, explaining things like the line of scrimmage, downs, sacks and moving the chains. It started to make sense. Finally, I could clap for specific reasons, not just because the people next to me were cheering.
Now I'm a few decades past college graduation, and we're still watching the games -- yelling at the television as if the players or refs can actually hear us. It's fun, and it's a great excuse to eat tailgate food, even if we're only snacking on the sofa.
I get nervous during close games and watch it like it's a scary movie -- with my hands in front of my face, peeking out between my fingers. During key plays, I close my eyes tight and tell Tom, "Just tell me what happens. I can't watch!"
Sometimes I convince myself I have some mystical power over whether my team makes a crucial play or touchdown. If I watch, I might jinx them. So I walk to the kitchen for chips, hoping to see good news on the instant replay. (Is it just me? Please tell me this is not just my own unique brand of crazy!)
Like many people, I'm conflicted about football in general. Part of me thinks it's nuts -- the way we watch people run full-tilt into other people and tackle them to the ground. The sight and sound of some of those big hits make me cringe.
The other part of me understands why so many of us stay glued to the game. Maybe it reminds us of life -- which comes with its own share of sprints, sacks, crushing hits and big wins.
Football is struggle. We live it in our own lives, usually in less physically grueling ways. But we understand the point -- to keep pushing against resistance. To gain ground. To get across the line toward whatever it is we need most.
Like football, some parts of life have huge stakes, just like the Super Bowl. Choosing who to marry. The birth of a child. A scary diagnosis. The loss of someone we love. We get through those moments of joy or pain with whatever team of people we've chosen to surround ourselves with. We couldn't do it without them.
But most of life is like the individual moments of a game. We get up in the morning and try to make the right calls. Do we zig or zag? Make a hail Mary pass or rush forward into traffic? Do we punt or go for it on fourth down?
We try to be a good teammate. We celebrate the wins and deal with the defeats.
Then we get up the next day and do it again. Keep driving forward. Struggling against the forces pushing against us. In the movie "Any Given Sunday," Al Pacino's character says: "Life is a game of inches. So is football."
Here's hoping that in the next hour, the next day, month, and year, we all push forward, even if it's only for a few inches. May those inches add up to an amazing game and an even better life.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Her book is available on Amazon.