I’ve been a football fan pretty much all of my life. My father graduated from North Carolina State University, and has spent most of HIS life as a Wolfpack fanatic. My family jokes that my first words were “Mama,” “Dada,” and “Go Wolfpack!”
In truth, I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration.
When Brian and I got together many years later, I took my love of college football and applied it to his greatest love–Carolina Panthers football. I already knew a bit about how the game worked, from the many years of watching with my dad and brother. But it wasn’t until I saw my husband’s passion for the Panthers that I really started getting interested. And at that point, I became a student of the game.
As any good over-achiever would do, I did internet research, bought books, even made flash cards so I could remember who played what position and what their jersey numbers were. (Yes, I made flash cards. I may even still have them somewhere.)
So by the time Brian took me to my very first NFL game, I was well-versed in first downs, holding penalties, and wildcat formations. So enthusiastic was I about my newfound obsession with football, I spent the best money I’ve ever spent in my entire adult life and bought MORE tickets so I could take my baby brother to HIS very first NFL game, where were trounced the New Orleans Saints, 30-7.
And so now, during football season, our family gatherings on Sundays revolve around Carolina Panthers football. We’ve been die-hard fans through the ups and the downs, throughout coaching staff changes and new quarterbacks, while watching some of our favorite players retire or be traded. We’ve rejoiced with victories, shed tears over heart-breaking losses, and spent countless hours discussing the finer points of our defensive strategy. I’ve watched hours of Sports Center, and even more hours of the NFL draft, hoping to see my team grow and improve and become legendary (like I know they’re capable of doing.) We’ve kept up with our superstitions, we always wear our Panthers gear on Game Day, and we ALWAYS celebrate a victory with a shot of Irish whiskey.
But even more than that, I find that I have an emotional attachment to my team, my players, my coaches. When I hear about a player who’s given their time and energy to a charity, I swell with pride. When I heard about Greg Olsen’s son, who was born with a rare heart condition, I felt my heart break for them. And when his son survived the many surgeries, I rejoiced with them. When our quarterback, Cam Newton, gets injured, I swear I can feel it in my bones, too. (Let’s not even talk about my reaction when I heard about his recent auto accident.) Maybe it’s the cheerleader in me, or the fan girl, but I am emotionally invested in my team, and I want nothing more than to see them do well.
Fast forward to today, January 10, 2015. It’s been a tough season for us. We’ve watched, sometimes with great frustration, a team that we know is Super Bowl worthy take us down a losing streak path that seemed to be endless. Game after game, we watched small mistakes, injuries, and countless penalties that left us wondering if the Panthers had lost heart. Still, we cheered for them, willing them to succeed. And as if to beat all odds, we won the last four games of our season, launching us unexpectedly into the playoffs–with a losing record.
We managed to beat the Arizona Cardinals last week, and now we find ourselves facing the Seattle Seahawks–last year’s Super Bowl Champions–in the divisional playoffs game that could, if we win, get us one step closer to the Big Game.
Readers? My heart is in my teeth.
After the year we’ve had, nothing would make me happier than for just one more victory. One more chance. One more time to see our team come together and celebrate like this:
They’ve worked so hard for it. We’ve cheered so hard for it. Tonight’s the night.
And my butt will be firmly planted in front of my wide screen television, at least an hour before kick off, wearing my favorite Luke Keuchly t-shirt and my lucky turquoise socks.
I have girlfriends who don’t get it. They don’t see the appeal, or understand my fascination with Sports Center, or why Sundays (and playoff Saturdays!) are days when I can make no social plans until after the game is played. And that’s ok. I’m ok with being the lone female sports fan in our little group.
Because I LOVE football. And I will shout at the screen over crazy penalties with a caveman mentality because I LOVE THIS GAME. I love my team.
And if–no–WHEN we win tonight, you will be able to hear my squees ’round the world. (It may be late; I apologize in advance for waking you.)