For the naysayers, it’s just a game. A valid argument can definitely be made there. Even still, it is hard to deny the fanaticism of football’s following.
It’s most devoted followers hold certain truths to be self evident. Some might even call it religion. The kind of religion that brings people together. The kind of religion that reveres the whole over the individual. The kind of religion that on any given Sunday can deliver triumphant victory or gut-wrenching defeat. But also, the kind of religion that is never short on hope or optimism.
In exploring why football is often considered the bedrock of America’s cultural fabric, it became increasingly clear. It’s the personal connection that so many have to the game. Each football season is marked by a changing of the seasons. We shed ourselves of the things that separate us–the rivalries, the rankings, the championship rings. And, legions of fans are called together for a fresh start.
If you have ever spent time under the lights, you know. It’s the sentimental yearning to return to those short-lived but tangible moments that keep you tethered to the game, well after the game has left you. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the feeling as nostalgia.
It’s nostalgia for the earthy smell of fresh cut grass, the crisp chill in the air that tickles your nose, and the evening dew casting a faint silver blanket across the field. Nostalgia for the excitement summoned at pep rallies, the anticipation of the final class bell on a Friday afternoon, and the echoes of the drumline practicing that familiar battle cry. It’s nostalgia for the trash talking that wanders from the locker room to the field, the butterflies felt at the sound of the ref’s whistle, and the eternal optimism of the 12th man when the team is down with two minutes left on the clock.
Even if the final score is decidedly not in your team’s favor, there’s still hope in the reserves that the next game will give way to a moment of brilliance and glory. The kind of moment that sends goosebumps down your spine, tears to your eyes, and transcendent energy pulsing through your veins. It’s the gospel football’s most ardent of fans sing on high. Just ask anyone who witnessed the rebirth of an entire city after it had the wind knocked out of it.
Moments like these are fleeting, for sure. We look out for them like the leaves changing because when the moment is over, you miss it and how it made you feel. My cheerleading days ended years ago, but I miss those Friday nights lights. Under the buzzing of the stadium torches, I learned that it is just a game. But it’s more than just a game, too. One look up in the stands and it’s obvious. It’s the gathering of an entire community. And for a season of the year that is devoted to coming together, it seems only natural to stop and enjoy the beauty of it all.