Love of the Game – By Mary McDonald
Whenever you smell leaves burning, your mind immediately thinks of autumn and the game. Sometimes, in the spring, when a neighbor burns off the winter’s accumulation of weeds and scrub, your heart beats a little faster as the adrenaline courses through your veins. It’s a Pavlovian response and you feel silly knowing that there are many months to go before your players will don their pads. But still, sometimes you find a pile of leaves to burn in April, just because.
You know others would wrinkle their nose at the smell of sweat and musty equipment, but when you walk into the locker room, you feel like you’ve come home. A sense of purpose settles over you.
The season begins and you survey a ragtag group of boys. Some cower under your scrutiny, others look impassive, but you know each and every one of them has something special inside. He must in order to willingly deal with the misery of football practice.
You know that you are not just their coach. You are their mentor. Their surrogate father. Their disciplinarian–when they need it. Some need it a lot. There are times when you wonder what the hell is going through a kid’s mind when they do something stupid. Then you remember what it was like when you were their age. And you smile. Secretly.
You wipe the sweat as it slides down your neck and your shirt sticks to your back. Yet, it’s nothing compared to what the players are going through, dressed in all their gear. You blow the whistle because you’ve already yelled yourself hoarse. You tell one player that he has to know the offense so well that even his children will know it in their own genes. You feel sorry for his future children.
You wonder if they will ever get it. If they will ever figure out where they are supposed to go when the ball is snapped. You shake your head as the quarterback fumbles the ball. Again.
And you yell. Again.
Then one day, it clicks. Everything meshes. You feel the difference in the air. They are no longer separate players. They are a team.
You love the game. You love everything about it. From the intensity of the players as they step onto the field with fire burning in their eyes, to the turf, deep green and vivid under the bright lights.
You never tire of hearing the roar of the crowd that accompanies a big play or the chills you get when the band plays the national anthem and you have to blink hard and hope everyone thinks it’s just the wind irritating your eyes. You rub them and curse about the damn dust. Nobody dares to comment.
You look at each player in his pristine uniform that just begs to be dirtied and you know at this moment, the magic begins. The grunts and growls of the players as they strive to make the play is a sweet melody to your ears.
Then, when a player makes a great play, you nod and smile. You feel pride in them and you let it show. These are your players. Your kids. And you love them.