I have been a football fan since the days of Hop Cassady, Otto Graham, Lou Groza, and Jim Brown. I’ve been around so long that I was already in my 20’s when Super Bowl I was played, and this year was number 55!
That all may seem like ancient history to some of you, but I bring it up because of the love-hate struggle I’m having this year with the game of football. I’ve been a football fan, some would say a fanatic, since I was the age of my 7 year-old grandson Brady who is, thanks to technology, a much bigger football fan than I was.
You see when my family got our first television when I was Brady’s age I had access to 3 channels, not the hundreds kids today have. In my childhood there was one college game and one pro game on per week, period. I had no internet to study football history. Instead of Madden Football with unbelievable graphics I had a metal football field that vibrated to make miniature players move erratically around on the field.
But there’s another advance in technology that has impacted my enthusiasm for watching 300 pound men crash into much smaller men with bone-jarring force. Medical technology has taught us so much about the life-long damage this sport inflicts on the bodies and brains of players, and when I hear about that my enthusiasm for the game is dampened.
That scientific knowledge has made me hope that my grandson will channel his athleticism into a safer sport. And yes, I know that I should be just as concerned about the well being of other young men, but that rational and ethical knowledge has still not been able to cure me of my nearly 70 years of watching football.
All of that is a very long way to explain or rationalize why I still watch football and why I recorded the two hour NFL Awards show that was on the night before the Super Bowl. I almost didn’t watch that recording the afternoon of Super Sunday because I figured 4 hours of Super Bowl was plenty of football for one day. But for some reason I turned it on and am very glad I did. It was far more interesting than the game that evening.
Running the risk of sounding irreligious I must say that several parts of the NFL Awards show were more motivational and emotional for me than many worship services in which I’ve participated and/or led.
Alex Smith’s super human recovery from having his leg crushed in a game, Russell Wilson’s charity & hospital visits, and all the league is finally doing to support social justice and anti-racism. And yes I hate the hypocrisy after what the league did to Colin Kaepernick for kneeling a few year’s ago. But better late than never?
Alex Smith’s story inspired me the most. His determination to make it back onto an NFL field after his leg was damaged so badly two years ago that the doctors thought they might have to amputate struck me personally. I personally think he was crazy for ever wanting to play the game again, but that was his dream and I will not pass judgement on it.
I had seen a short clip on the CBS Evening News about Smith’s grueling road to recovery, but the story on the NFL Award’s show was far more detailed and therefore more moving. They showed X-rays of his lower leg where the pieces of his tibia and fibula looked like the old game of pick up sticks I played as a kid. Multiple surgeries and infections ensued and grueling rehab and physical therapy.
Then Alex went to do even more challenging rehab at a hospital where wounded American service members were trying to put their lives back together after leaving body parts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those brave men and women were Smith’s inspiration when he wanted to give up, and because he didn’t he was back on the field with The Washington Football Team last fall.
For him that was a dream come true. That’s not my dream. but to each his own. What was relevant to me as I am struggling to recover from back surgery 5 months ago is the amazing determination and refusal to give up Alex Smith displayed for two long years. Granted I’m like 45 years older than Alex Smith, and my injury is like a hang nail compared to his, but I still need the courage and motivation to do my physical therapy on days when I just don’t feel like it; on days when it all seems hopeless; on days when I feel like I’m worse off now than I was before surgery.
On reflection about all this I’m thinking part of what I’m lacking is a specific goal like Smith had to sustain him on the terrible days; so that’s something I will work on. But for now my belated new year’s resolution is to remember and imitate the courage of Alex Smith and thousands of others like him who dig deep and refuse to give up.