Football. . . the Game of Life

Payton Van Pelt, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

I’m coming into the mid fourth quarter of my high school career. We’re up and are on the defense with finals approaching. They’re blitzing us and putting a lot of pressure on my quarterback. But the end zone is in sight. I can see the warm sunny air of college close ahead. I’m hoping for a turnover, so we can just sail into the end zone without a worry in sight.

The Van Pelt name has had ‘football’ plastered over it since before I was born. It happened in 1989 when a young freshman was thrown onto the turf at Pittsburgh University with a pigskin in his hands. It remains set in stone on the Walk of Fame just inches from the Cathedral of Learning at the Pitt Campus. Ever since then, there was football.

I joined the mix towards end of 1999. When I was born, my first possession was a football with my name and birthdate. It was a gift from the Buffalo Bills. My first memory was my dad coming home from a long day at work from the stadium and followed only by Family Night at Ralph Wilson Stadium as the night sky is ablaze with the glow of fireworks falling above the Jumbotron.

I spent 18 years with football in my back pocket. And I will most likely spend the next 100 years with it there as well. It was tattooed on my name since that Saturday in 1989. At times, I fell short of appreciating it. After moving the third time, it felt like a stigma in the small town of Green Bay. Playfully known as Titletown, I soon realized that football for them was almost what it was like for me; it was everything.

As kids, they knew every player, every coach and all their prior history.  I was floored and a little jealous. There was an aura of football as more than a game. Yet, not everyone understood how personal it was for me, and often, I would let my temper out. No one understood that, for me, football is more than a game. No if’s, and’s or but’s.

I realized how deeply enthralled I was in this game after nights of falling asleep on the couch or on the table, waiting for my dad to come home. He’d be working away on most weeknights, and if it was an away game, we’d only see him for Friday afternoon and parts of Saturday. We got lucky on home games because we’d get him Friday afternoon, most of Saturday, and the pre and post game on Sunday.

The winning of games became the highest point of our weeks in the fall. Not a single thing that I have yet experienced can top that feeling of accomplishment. Nothing can beat a win.

But, oh boy, could just about everything beat a loss.

We all carry the feeling of ‘We just missed it.’ And watching everyone mope away off the field, and my dad mope into the house was beyond painful. There’s not a lot you can do to console athletes after a loss because they shift all the blame on themselves. It’s just the nature of the game.

Usually, the game would follow everyone home off the field as well. My football family I would see just about every other week. No one understood the feeling of rootlessness quite like them. We all had such a uniquely tight bond. Everyone who had a loved one behind those stadium walls felt the same. They were often the first friends you had after packing up with messy strings and dragging all your belongings to a new team. They weren’t friends. They were family.

I could list a million things that football has shaped for me. From seeing very notable athletes in environments people would pay for, to living a life lucky enough to have a roof over my head, and food on my table every night, football is my life. But, one thing football has really given me is a new appreciation for family. When moving, the only steady you have are the people moving with you.

And next year, I’m going to be moving again, but this time without them. And the next season will happen in the fall, but I’ll be watching on a TV screen some thousand miles away.

So now I’m in the fourth quarter of my football life.

The clock is running out quickly. I caught the ball, and now I’m running towards the end zone. I see my siblings in the stands cheering my name. I clutch the ball tight to my chest and let my feet do all the work. I’m almost at the 20-yard line.

I see my parents on the sideline with fat proud grins on their lips. I turn to see the end zone in sight. The path is cleared.

I am coming up on the 10… the 5… the 3….