Kick Off

September 11, 2006 at 11:06 am (Uncategorized)

Yesterday I became a seasonal widow. Technically, I suppose, the grim period began on Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers faced off against the Miami Dolphins in the NFL opener. But yesterday was the first game of the New England Patriots, and the first Sunday of the NFL season.

My husband Jay is not a football fan. Fan is a gentle word carrying with it for me the connotations of a delicate breeze. There is nothing soft about Jay’s loyalty to the New England Patriots. He watches their games with hands and feet made damp with nervousness; he bites his nails; he groans when they fumble, and when it looks as though they might lose, his face pales to a chalky yellow; he pumps his fists in the air with each first down they achieve and dances about the room for a touchdown.

For the first few years of our relationship, I witnessed Jay’s game day face on limited occasions. Living in California and Montana, the local networks usually broadcast the Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos or Seattle Seahawks rather than the far-away antics of the then-mediocre Patriots. I’m also convinced that Jay hid the most rabid of his tendencies until we had officially tied the knot, making it legally entangling for me to escape him and his blue-suited heroes. The Pats did make it to the 1997 Super Bowl against Green Bay, where they were unceremoniously stuffed before sinking back to the franchise’s normal middling performance.

All this changed with the arrival of coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots claimed Super Bowls in 2002, 2004 and 2005. Suddenly, liking the team was trendy, and following their games made Jay happy instead of morose. We also got to see a lot more of their games when we subscribed to a satellite package that beams every NFL game into our home. Jay can record one game, and flip back and forth among the others, memorizing every statistic, analyzing each score for its possible implications for the Patriots.

At the same time as the Patriots’ ascendance, Jay also got involved with fantasy football. For those of you unfamiliar with the specifics of fantasy leagues, keep it that way. All you need to know is that millions of otherwise normal folks are made utterly insane by fantasy football. Fantasy players “draft” NFL players to make a “team” which competes against other fake “teams” for the season. Your individual “players” from different NFL teams are awarded points for game-day achievements.

Perhaps it is possible for a person to “play” fantasy football without it becoming an obsession that drowns out the rest of your life. I wouldn’t know about that. My reality is bleak. Instead of scrutinizing the minutiae of just the Patriots’ games, Jay now freaks out about every game because either he or his weekly opponent has fantasy “players” in nearly every match-up. It’s not even that Jay wants certain teams to win, but that he needs certain players to score points in certain ways. Madness, I tell you. I’ll come downstairs to find him out of breath, flicking between channels and games, muttering obscenities at players.

Fantasy Football caused some marital discord in the past. Not only was Jay totally loony-tunes for most of Sunday, but he also spent great amounts of time on-line before and after each game, gathering information to choose his roster and analyze its potential. He is hands-down the smartest person I know, armed with a brain that memorizes and regurgitates facts and figures like no other. With fantasy football, though, it’s like his brain ate itself for a few months each year. Every neuron was dedicated to gathering information about running backs, or lamenting the sacking of a favored quarterback.

After much bitching and moaning on my part, Jay agreed last year to scale back the insanity. He was even reluctant to spend the extra money to get all the different games, and said he was willing to give up entering any of the fantasy leagues. Oddly, I encouraged him to play in the league and to get the satellite package.

It occurred to me that in the wake of having a child and having me become chronically ill, Jay didn’t have a whole lot of fun in his life. He gave up running marathons for quick workouts on the treadmill at lunch so he could come home immediately after work to relieve me from Andrew duty. Same goes for the pick-up basketball games that used to consume him. He switched jobs so that he could spend more time at home, even though this meant leaving behind work he found intellectually engaging and morally satisfying. He picks up extra work to help pay the medical bills, and has pretty much resigned himself to the fact that every penny left over from our living expenses will go to paying a doctor or funding a cross-country flight to see a doctor. He volunteered for nighttime duty with Andrew, which means he rarely gets a night of uninterrupted sleep. On Saturdays and Sundays he wakes up early with Andrew so that I can get some extra hours of rest. He saves up his sick days and vacation days so that he can be by my side at doctors’ visits. This meant that he has dragged himself to the office with the stomach flu and with pneumonia. He holds my hand when we get bad news from the doctors, helps me compile lists of questions for my appointments, and celebrates when I’m able to drop a milligram or two on my prednisone. He’s never commented on the prednisone weight I’ve gained, never complained about how much our lives have changed, never made me feel bad for not being able to work full time.

Thinking of the myriad ways that Jay makes my life as cheerful as it is, drove home to me how much he has sacrificed to make it so. I could not ask for a truer friend or a more stalwart companion. What are a few hours of football on a Sunday compared to the lifetime of joy and understanding he has brought to me? So, if the Patriots make him happy, I say, “Go Patriots!” If he needs the running back Willy Parker to get lots of yards to win a fantasy game, I say, “Go, Willy Parker!” If it’s important for Drew Bledsoe not to get sacked, I say, “Stay on your feet, you moron!” Long live the NFL!

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