A True Gridiron Giant

A True Gridiron Giant

I grew up watching NFL Football. Every Sunday and Monday night, I followed legends like Carl Eller, Roger Staubach, Len Dawson, and Mean Joe Greene. I loved pregame shows when players talked about coaches and fathers who prepped them for this spotlight. Tales of dads and backyard ball and other manly influences who made all the difference were commonplace stories.

It mystified me then as to why, after making a stellar play, a battered, toothless gridiron giant would look straight into the camera and say, ‘HI MOM!’ Where did all those stories of manly influence go when it came time to offer parental recognition? It took me a few years of reflection after my own mother’s passing to truly understand this phenomenon.

Our mom was a Cub Scout den mother; preparing crafts and snacks and other activities for my brother’s troop.  Even before I was old enough to attend preschool, I remember vying for my mom’s attention when she prepared for those Cub Scout meetings.  Mom told the story of me looking out the window as her boys from Pack 34 walked to our front door.  As I saw them approach, I sighed heavily, ‘Here come those damn Scrub Scrouts.’  It was a remark she chastened but easily forgave.

We four boys spent a better part of our lives in the back seat of a Ford Country Squire station wagon. We took trips ranging from Sunday dinner in Marshalltown to week-long excursions to see relatives in Oceanside, CA. Back before cellphones made kids drool into compliancy, our mom provided Interstate Sign Bingo, Archie comics, and other distractions like map reading; sometimes, however, the best laid plans just weren’t enough to keep her four boys, ages 8 to 14, from becoming restless. Our mother, who had little time for a backseat ruckus, blurted,  ‘Do you want me to come back there!?’

My Brother Jeff sensed an empty threat and muttered, “I’d like to see you try.”

Our mother was anything but tentative in her decision-making; she immediately hoisted her portly self over the front seat, wielding a shoe that had been on one of her swollen feet. She aimed her lust for control at the originator of the rebellion and then at the remaining heathens who guffawed at the sight of her tumble.  Like the Grinch’s heart, our respect for our mother’s power – and nimbleness – grew ten times that day.

My mom also baked cakes to supplement our family’s income.  I cannot remember her as happy to make cakes as she was when she did so for my brothers or me. We had her love in cakes for birthdays, graduations, and confirmations.  Hers was a talent I didn’t fully appreciate until I tried to bake cakes for my own children. I’m not sure if mom ever saw my lack of appreciation as an offense but, if she did, I’m sure she forgave me… not only for my indifference, but for the time when I let our dog out and he stuck his foot in a cake she was about to deliver. Having no time for tears, she always made one more sheet cake than necessary, always planning for the unfortunate eventuality that was a part of our chaos.

NFL Football has changed over the years. In addition to Sunday and Monday games, there are competitions on Thursdays and Saturdays. There are more regular season games. I also don’t see many players honor their mom like they did during my 1970s wonder years; maybe they are calling their moms after the game. Mom is telling them how proud she is of their effort and not to celebrate on the field so much. My brothers and I would have called after the big game, taking Mom’s praise and criticism; it’s the kind of lesson a young man learns from a mom who believes he’s worth a front seat climb.


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