“Just what did football

do for you?”

A fellow emailed me. He had read a comment I made about playing football. I could tell he never played the game. Too bad. No matter what level you play, high school, college, or NFL, the sport makes you a better person, but I didn’t tell him that. I thought about his question. Just what did football do for me?

I thought some more. Why do I like football so much? I love the big green field, precisely lined in white. I can’t smell freshly cut grass without thinking of football. I love the uniforms, the colors, and helmets. I like the violent hits. The big runs and slants and deep throws. I like to see a receiver blow by a cornerback. I like to see a punt arcing high into the air, spinning like a bullet. I love seeing a great back juke a would-be tackler out of his shoes. I love a crushing sack that makes the quarterback spit up the ball. I like to see the team break out of the huddle and line up, a great machine where each part contributes to the overall perfection.

I like the pageantry. Banners, flyovers, logos, marching bands, cheerleaders, and mascots. If you are a Georgia fan you have the best mascot by far, Uga. Who doesn’t like dogs, excuse me, Dawgs.

I like the emotions. It doesn’t bother me to see an angry coach grab a player by the facemask. I like to see players show emotion after a big score, sack, or interception. I like it when a TV camera zooms in on a distraught fan or one celebrating wildly. I like seeing fans stand as one and hearing them roar, an immense chorus. Nothing tops the drama of a drive to victory as the clock ticks down to zero.

I love the ball with its finely pebbled surface and bright white laces. I like to see an official indicate first down, an opponent’s false start, and a touchdown. The zebras bring civility to this game of collisions.

I like the traditions. Georgia’s hedges and trumpet solo. Clemson’s rock. Seeing Auburn’s golden eagle fly around Jordan Hare stadium. LSU’s Mike the Tiger. And if you’ve never been to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, you should go. The stadium’s split down the middle: red and black on one side, orange and blue on the other. A spectacle.

So, what did football do for me? Plenty. It makes me feel more alive come fall. It gave me a lifelong desire to stay in shape. It taught me the value of sacrifice and being a team player. Discipline is indeed a game-changer. It taught me equality. Something Bill Curry said, once the coach at Georgia Tech and later Alabama, resonates with me. “There is no racism in the huddle.”

Sometimes I dream I’m in a game playing safety. The quarterback drops back. Here comes the receiver. Here comes the ball. Then I wake up and disappointment crushes me.

Some moms don’t let their sons play football because they might get hurt. They shortchange their sons. Yeah, you get hurt. I got knocked out twice, broke three vertebrae, suffered a bruised sternum, jammed fingers, and had my leg ripped open when a player missing cleats ran over me. The metal posts sliced me open. The team physician stitched me up and back into the game I went.

My injuries never bother me, and I’m glad I have them. Battle scars, they prove I played the greatest game, a game that did me some good, one that makes my life better now that I’m in the fourth quarter of another game, the game we call life.

Visit Tom Poland’s website at tompoland.net or email him at tompol@earthlink.net.