Our first date was to a Seattle Seahawks game to watch them play the San Francisco 49ers.
The first time I ever called my wife the terrible word was because of a football game.
It was a San Francisco 49ers game, and they were losing. And she wanted to do something else, so she started in to me about this and that.
My rising blood pressure at the lack of defense displayed on the field combined with a headache brought on by my wife’s insistance on activities that had nothing to do with what I was currently focused on brought me low, very low indeed.
I lashed out. I said it, and the look on her face was enough to tell me that I had crossed a line that should never be crossed and once you do, you can never go back.
All because of a stupid football game. Twenty-two large, sweaty men on a green and white grid smashing at each other to score points.
It took us a while to recover from that one. No amount of apologizing worked. She was hurt badly, and I had nothing better than a stupid sports excuse to show for it.
It made me hate sports and despise my weakness at getting emotionally out of control within the context of something that truly does not matter.
I stopped watching football after that. I gave up on the rest of that NFL season, which was painful yet good medicine.
It made not watching football the next year much easier.
Gradually the 49ers fell from grace, the Joe Montana and Steve Young years slipped away, and the team fell into a funk.
It was easy to ignore.
My Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde football personalities gradually gave way to a more balanced me, one who could take or leave sports with impunity.
A few years went by where I watched very few sporting matches, if any.
Then I decided to go to university and specifically a university that was on the verge of breaking out of the West Coast sporting doldrums and onto the national stage with a superstar quarterback in Joey Harrington.
I could get discounted tickets to games as a student at the University of Oregon, and so I did.
I got caught up in the hype of the Heisman chase that year, and in a way, it connected me to the younger more normal students there. We had Duck football in common, if nothing else.
My boys were young, very young then. And I felt like I kept a balance to things, especially my education and family life, which was about all I could manage. Football was a side pleasure, a more balanced interest than it had been previously.
I graduated and became a reporter at a newspaper in town with virtually no football, at least no football to speak of. The nearest big city didn’t even have a baseball team. And I worked Sundays.
Other than Super Bowl Sunday, I forgot about the sport that had torn me up so much in the past.
Then we moved to Montana, a state with no pro sports at all and vistas so unimaginable, no sporting event in the world could compete with a chance to be outside in nature.
On Sundays we hiked and played in the great wilderness. We floated the rivers and made bonfires at night and enjoyed good craft beer under stars so bright they lit up the way for you.
And gradually summer turned to fall, and the leaves fell off the trees, and Montanans started talking about nothing but their beloved University of Montana Grizzlies. The kids came home from school with Griz helmets and jerseys signed by players.
The newspaper where I worked was awash in maroon and silver every Friday, and on Saturdays, the sounds from the stadium could be heard far up on the trails on the surrounding hills where we often hiked.
I wasn’t dragged back in kicking and screaming. It was gradual. A watch party here or there, and then suddenly, my alma mater, my Oregon Ducks were right back in the thick of the national college football scene.
Suddenly Saturdays were a blur of kids soccer games and rushing around to grab chips and salsa and beer for the evening game against this PAC-12 school or that.
Suddenly the nerves were raw again, the tension palpable in the room as games came down to field goals or two-minute drills. Soon I was completely caught back up in the same mess I had been before.
I was overly bought in, too emotionally attached to something of little significance. I was like every other manchild in the United States.
Then we moved to Alaska, where the only pro sport is hockey and where hockey is not merely sport but religion too.
And there is nothing in this world I care less for than hockey. Perhaps it’s the way my eyes fail to track that little black puck around the white surface of the ice rink, perhaps it’s the sound of sticks clattering and skates slicing through ice, but I despise hockey. Unless there is blood. A good boxing bout on ice is always enjoyable but nothing that can’t be caught on the recaps on the news.
WIth fewer people than Montana, Alaska still was not the refuge from football that I needed. A sojourn in India helped put things in perspective as I watched a country go nuts over the Cricket World Championships. If that doesn’t show you the ability of sport to transcend everything from culture to sanity, nothing will.
Too many cold Sundays in November and December mean a lot of sitting around and watching television. And you can only watch so many reruns.
I started watching the San Francisco 49ers play again shortly after Jim Harbaugh became the coach. It was like watching a phoenix rise from the ashes, abeit a very different phoenix than the last one. This phoenix was a bit of a defensive juggernaut that sort of suffocated other teams to death.
Soon my boys took a much more active interest in football. They memorized the players and understood the plays from having spent so much time playing Madden NFL.
They were walking statisticians, faster than my computer at pulling up random stats from their favorite Duck and 49er players.
This year we moved to Chicago, and one of my fears was that we were moving to a true-blue sports town. A renowned football team, a trophied basketball team, a venerated hockey club and not one but two baseball teams. Nevermind that one of those teams is the Cubs.
Some of it came to a head this last week. I found myself, on too many occasions, looking forward to watching the 49ers play on Sundays. We’ll stay up until 1 a.m. watching the Ducks play their west coast rivals.
I find myself standing during game rather than sitting, because I have an inability to relax.
I realize these are many of the exact things that make sports so enjoyable to so many.
But the more I think about how low-value the experience really is, it causes me to question my sanity.
And then there is that one episode so many years ago now.
The time I dropped the bomb on my wife during a football game.
She’s since forgiven me, but I don’t know that I’ve forgiven myself.
And every time I get caught up in sport, so wrapped up again that I’m a different person, I remember that day.
I’m not into resolutions, but I’m going to make football a very low priority in my life. I’m going to read more, ride my bike, go for walks with my wife, play games with my daughter and maybe throw the football around the yard with my boys.
I can’t imagine a life of Sundays wasted on something so trivial and ultimately meaningless.
But then everyone says this when their team misses out on the national championship, right?