Osius column: A little Friday night magic
Cheerful yellow and blue balloons waved in the breeze on the Roaring Fork River bridge, and with a wince I realized: first football game of the season.
My younger son had just left for his first year at college in Virginia. At the grocery store I had just reached for his favorite vinegar chips and then jerked my hand back, remembering. The other son, home only for a week from a faraway internship, would return in two days to college in Vermont.
I told my friend Lori I’d turn up at the high-school game. Our kids had grown up together, had all played football. Her older son had just begun college, but her second one remained and was playing quarterback.
For the first time in seven years I’d have no boy on the football field.
“Who are we playing?” I asked.
Shudder. The northerly town of Meeker was great last year, had — still has — a kid who was a state champion in track. When he got the ball, no one could catch him. We had driven hours up to Meeker only to see our team slaughtered, a lot to zero.
Meeker, really? First game?
No particular expectations tonight, the radio announcers said tactfully as I approached the stadium. It was a tough opponent and in a different league than ours anyway. This game was a tune-up, for practice and to try things out. Well, I’d just show support for the team. And socialize. I can do that.
“We’re holding them off pretty well,” Lori and I said, nodding, as the first half passed and the opponents got only one touchdown per quarter: 0 to 14. Not bad. They got one two-point conversion, missed another.
At halftime our school’s past state championship teams, from 1973, 1977 and 1985, were honored, brought out on the field, introduced. All wore commemorative shirts and got huge cheers. Some were longtime locals; some had traveled back. I later heard that while two brothers were absent, their sister came by the school for their shirts: They wanted them.
And then, as play resumed, the strangest things started happening. A melee erupted on the field. Adults intervened, and heaven only knew who was in trouble: We watchers braced for an awful penalty. But an opposing player was kicked out, having punched one of our guys. I later heard it was clearly visible on film.
Lori’s son Tyler got a touchdown. Then Aldo got one. We had one blocked kick, one good one — we were 13-14. Wait a minute. …
Then a few things went wrong. In a pickle, we brought out our kicker, Colin, for a field goal. The stadium fell silent. His parents sat, surely pale, right behind me.
My kids have sometimes said, sympathetically, after seeing a dropped pass or other heartbreaker, “He’ll remember that one.” I felt the parents’ tension, watched the kick — “Aaaaand it’s good!” — heard the stadium explode, saw the parents spinning with joy and accepting high fives. Thirty-nine yards. The moment of the night. Colin, a soccer player, doesn’t even play football; tonight’s were his first points in a game.
We led 16-14. Two minutes to go. My older son was watching from the sidelines, hanging with an old teammate and chatting with parents. He missed playing the game himself. I texted my other son, who had called Tyler earlier to wish him luck. “Go Rams!” he texted back. Lori’s older son, Tanner, phoned from California.
Kids in the bleacher section that is — by unspoken rule — theirs alone, filed out. “Why are they leaving?” asked a friend, Julie, stealing a break from popcorn-selling duty. (“No one’s buying,” she said. “They’re all watching.”) We realized that the kids were poised to storm the field.
Yet with one minute left, the other team pushed ours to the 1-yard line. One yard?
Would the stand emptiers have to return, humbly, to their seats?
The other team fumbled. Reed swatted it; Conrado covered it. The fans flooded the field.
And having no kid out there? It was fine, great even. I didn’t cringe in fear like I used to as a long pass sailed through the night sky at my boy. Or gasp like my friend Charmian did when a massive pile slowly unfurled, and the last boy lying there was her own. I don’t even have to sell popcorn anymore.
“Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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