There is a particular combination of elation and misery that comes with the office of Quarterback’s Father. You’ll find this man either along the top row of the bleachers, standing alone, or perhaps pacing by himself along the fence because, as they say in other overly-dramatic situations, it’s lonely at the top.
That said, I coached my son for several years and he never played quarterback for me. He was a battering ram of a fullback, and a heat-seeking-missile of a linebacker…but never the quarterback. Never the guy who has his hands on the football on every play. It took moving ten hours south, joining a new school, and starting football the day we moved into town for all of that to happen. And we didn’t ask for any of it.
There was no politicking, there were no films shared via email with the coach, and really no dialogue with the coach at all. This (not interfacing with the coach) has been pure joy, being that we just moved out of a “Daddyball” community where every father wore lots of UnderArmour gear and was heavily involved. And regarding the coach, he is right out of Southern Football Coach central casting – big, lumbering, yells a lot, runs long practices, runs three plays total, and probably has a shrine to Paul “Bear” Bryant in the narthex of his home.
But so regarding being the quarterback’s father: When your son plays a regular position like fullback or middle linebacker, you don’t have the conflicting emotions of dread and excitement on every single play. There is the vague sense that he could make a great play, or make a mistake, but with a quarterback, those are multiplied tenfold.
My son started his first game as the 7th grade quarterback last night, and after a few plays I was by myself, pacing along a fence. We were playing against a very tony, upscale $10,000 a year private school that may or may not have been built to avoid racial integration. The officiating crew appeared to have been alumni of said school. Their field was nicer than any grass field I ever played on at any level of football. It had a manicured hedgerow around it.
Incidentally, two of my most awful experiences as a professional writer have involved famous quarterbacks and their less-famous evangelical fathers. In retrospect, God’s good and sovereign hand was evident in both situations. Oddly, last night’s experience gave me a strange sympathy for both men and, by the grace of God, the wounds from those experiences are long healed and mostly forgotten. But I felt sympathy, I guess, because of the visibility of their son’s position and the accompanying stress. Because of the fact that whenever their sons fumble a snap or throw a ball into the dirt, everybody is looking at them.
My son did fine. He and his teammates played and fought valiantly, in spite of some very dubious officiating (two “defensive holding” calls on successive running plays…really?) and also some dubious play-calling (see: three-play playbook). It was, all things considered, a beautiful night of football but, being that it’s junior high football, the kids were required to act as though they’d just had a family member die. No smiling or laughing or talking on the bus ride home, even though they’re kids who just played an amazing game and have their whole lives in front of them to be glum and quiet and surly and disappointed about a litany of things way more important than this. This is a football tradition that I hate.
On my way out I caught the eye of the 8th grade quarterback’s father. His son played a brave and sensational game…but lost by two points. He spent the entire evening standing alone at the edge of the bleachers. ”Which one is your son?” I asked.
“Number seven, the quarterback,” he replied.
“He’s a heckuva player. Played a heckuva brave game tonight,” I said.
And then he looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you sir. Thank you so much. That means a lot.”
And that is why I love football.