Dear Erika, This is Why I Love Football

Note:  This is a story I wrote recently for my blog:  Sorry about the length.  But, hey, we should all have a little extra time on our hands after this Sunday.  Hope you enjoy it.


                               Dear Erika, This is Why I Love Football


In the wake of the travesty that was the Tennessee Titan's 0-6 start to the 2009 season, my girlfriend asked me for the fifth time, "Why do you like football?  I don't get it.  Your team causes you nothing but pain.  Here, give me the shotgun and the bottle of whiskey."  The first thought that popped into my head was, "Aaaaagh!"  But I love this woman, so I made an effort to put it into words.  Again.  I talked about the history of the game, the community of fans, my need for additional reasons to drink beer, etc.  She was unimpressed.  We agreed to disagree (in other words, I let her be wrong).  But it occurred to me the other day that it goes a little deeper.  So, dear, hear me out.

As you know, I have dreams.  I have talent, too, but I don't know how much.  I'm an actor, writer and scared shitless man-child scraping by in LA on hope and tips earned at a local seafood restaurant.  Sometimes I wonder why I ever moved out to Los Angeles.  Nothing I did before matters.  No one knows who I am.  The few chances I have gotten usually only make me doubt myself more.  I was ready to admit I can't cut it out here, but then Vince Young shook off a 300-pound lineman and two years of doubt and negative expert analysis, threw a football through a wall and stood over the rubble with his head held high.

It was a Sunday afternoon in late November.  Still wearing my waiter uniform, I made a beeline to the nearest sports bar.  "Big Wangs," it's called.  I guess they got big wangs.  They definitely have a lot of flatscreen TVs.  I ducked around drunken Forty-Niner, Jet, Raider and Steeler fans and found a stool facing the one TV in the joint tuned into the second half of the Titans vs. Cardinals game.  Noone in LA is from LA, so Hollywood sports bars on a Sunday resemble the fanatic diversity of a Dick's Sporting Goods clearance bin.  In an unrelated note, I've now referenced Wangs and Dicks in the same story, and this is only the second paragraph - and I've giggled each time - I told you I was a man-child.  Where were we?

I took on the hunkered-down posture of a guy alone at a sports bar, clicking through the stats on my phone in an attempt to catch up on what I had missed so far.  There was an obnoxious group of Eagles fans just to my right.  In the pantheon of sports bar fan groups few are more loathsome than Eagles fans.  They are loud, uneducated, rude and wear it as a badge of courage that they are reviled for being assholes the world over.  In fact, their obnoxiousness is eclipsed only by your average Jets fan.  Take your Eagles fan, knock off about twenty-five IQ points, add a faded Pennington jersey and a do-rag, and you get your basic Jets fan.  This current group of Iggles fans, however, were really feeling it today.   And they had a "Woo!" guy in their midst.  Every time the Iggles got so much as a first down, the entire bar would be shaken with a shrill, ear-piercing "Woo!"  I spilled my Budweiser at least twice.  But I didn't dare make eye contact.  It is dangerous, perhaps even suicidal, to engage an Iggle fan when he has a ten point lead and a belly full of beer.  So I kept to myself and watched Chris Johnson take off down the left sideline for an eighty-five yard touchdown:  13-3.  "Woo!" I hollered in my native Tennessee twang before I could stop myself.  Now everyone knew there was a Titan fan in their midst.  You can take the flame-head out of Nashville, but you can't take the Nashville out of the flame-head.  I overheard a few guys talking about the impact of CJ's latest record breaking run on their fantasy teams.  I smiled to myself.  "You can have him on all your fantasy teams," I thought.  "But he's on my real team."  Unfortunately, so were the members of the Titans' special teams defense:  13-10.  By the way, who the hell is LaRod Stephens-Howling?  Before I can look him up, Leinart finally puts together a sustained drive and before I know it, we're down 17-13.  No more "woo's" from me.  I'm starting to get nervous.  I've destroyed the cocktail napkin in front of me.  I keep checking and rechecking my phone for facebook comments, emails, anything to distract me from curling up into a catatonic ball.    

Then the Britt fumble.  Vince, unlike me, is looking unflappable.  There are only five minutes left, but he's calm, focused, delivering the ball on time.  When he threw the deep ball to the rookie, I stood up out of my stool and raised my arms in the air.  As Britt was scrambling up to run, I was already thinking, "But maybe we're leaving too much time for the Cardinals to come back."  Then the strip by Rodgers-Cromartie.  I was getting very tired of Cardinals players with hyphens in their last name.  My heart sank.  I've seen this movie before, but usually the bad guy is played by a guy in a purple jersey.  Another key fumble to cap off a drive.  Damn.  Another game where we dominate in every category except turnovers, penalties and final score.  Dang.  Another long night on the message boards ranting, consoling and second guessing.  Dang, crap, sumbitch.

But then something happened.  The much maligned man-child with unlimited potential jogged out to the one-yard line, tightened his chinstrap and smiled.  He knew something none of us knew yet.  He knew this was his moment, the moment he had always known would come, even when he couldn't imagine how.   2:37 on the clock.  Ninety-nine yards to go.  A field goal won't do.  You know what happened.  Vince Young converted three fourth downs and used eighteen plays to march the Titans to victory, connecting with the rookie as time expired on a ten-yard touchdown throw.  I stood for the entire drive, using the stool only as a stress-squeezer.  I wavered back and forth between euphoria and despair at least ten times.  Fans from other games started to drift over.  Just before the first fourth down conversion, I formed a temporary but vital bond with a stranger after he said with complete confidence, "Vince has got this shit, man."  I gave him a fist bump.  By the end of the drive I was practically hugging him.  When Vince found Britt and Britt found sweet redemption, the whole bar erupted.  For a brief moment, everybody's second favorite team was the Titans.  The Eagles fan let forth a mighty "Woo!"  I might as well of been in the middle of the Wildhorse Saloon on 2nd Avenue.  Vince Young became an NFL quarterback right in front of everybody's eyes, and they knew it.  He knew it, too, ninety-nine yards and two minutes and thirty-seven seconds ago.

I may never become a star in Hollywood.  And I feel more like an undrafted free agent trying to make the practice squad than I do a former Rose Bowl champion overcoming his demons.  But I feel a connection to Vince Young, and he gives me hope.  He's so human and yet so special at the same time.  I think that's why the other fans turn to watch.  We all have a destiny.  We all have talent.  We all have potential, and, yes, we all have doubts and fears. We want Vince to succeed because we see a little of ourselves in him.  And on November 29th, 2009, my dear, he reminded me of why I love the game.

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