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My Life With Sports

I had never really thought about it, but in a surprisingly large way, watching sports on television has really played a big part in my life. This is especially true for football. In my life it has worked as a tool for socialization. In my neighborhood, when I was like nine or ten, there were a ton of kids that lived on or around my block. On any given day there could be up to fourteen of us playing a game. That's a lot for pick up games of manhunt, tag-one-tag-all, or, especially, football. The group was made up of both guys and girls and ranged in age from a year younger than me to five or six years older. My best friend, Steve, was the one who was a year younger, and the rest of the kids were at the higher end of the range.

I was fine when it came to playing most of the other games, but when it came to football it was different. Most of the other games depended almost entirely on running, they were glorified games of "It." But not football. More than just running, it involved cutting, stopping, throwing, catching, and other little nuances that I, as an uncoordinated little dork, was incapable of. Even the running wasn't simple. You had to know how to run and where to run. These were things I didn't know how to do. I can still picture in my head one of the games we played. I even have a still frame image in my head of a single play. Similarly, I also have a still frame emotion to go along with it.

We use to play our games in the street (two-hand-tag, of course). I can remember standing on the right side of the "field," just a few feet past the line of scrimmage, turned to the left, looking back at the quarterback, Amy, totally uncovered, watching her not even look at me. It wasn't that she didn't see me. She wasn't looking. I wasn't surprised. I knew the ball wouldn't be coming my way on that or any other play. I just stood there watching her look elsewhere and just felt a little hurt. That little hurt was just part of a bigger hurt, knowing that I wasn't being taken seriously. I had almost gotten use to it. When your not very good at something or, rather, very bad at something, people don't take you seriously. And there are times, after you think you've become numb to it, when an instance comes along and brings a little hurt with it that reminds you it's still there.

Helping the contest of my still frame picture was my best friend Steve. Since he was younger than me, he was taken about as serious as myself. Not only was he young, he was also very short. This isn't a real good combination for playing football with older kids. But Steve was very coordinated, and fast, and could juke someone out of their shoes. This more than made up for any spatial deficiencies, and he was one of the favorite players on any team. So not only was I not being taken seriously, I had to watch a kid who was younger and smaller than me be taken seriously. This combination really hurt my ego, what little of it there was.

That summer did have an effect on me. I was so pissed off and hurt about being shunned, ridiculed, or just plain ignored during a game of football I resolved to myself to learn as much as I could about the game and to become as good as I could so that the next summer it wouldn't ever happen again. Becoming better was easy. Once we were introduced to football, me and three friends, including Steve, would play two-on-two almost everyday and night. This way, I couldn't not be involved. And I was constantly going up against Steve, which made me better. But the way I learned the most about how to play the game is from watching football games on TV. If the TV served as my classroom, the announcers were my teachers. Every play that they replayed and broke down was absorbed. Every penalty that they explained was absorbed. Every call of the officials that they debated about was absorbed.

After one season of both pro and college games, I knew every rule in the book, I knew what every penalty was (I even knew how to make the body movements that went along with the penalty calls), I knew every route a receiver could run, I knew techniques on how to cover a receiver, there was hardly anything I didn't know. It would be nice to say I went on to become the star football player in high school and married the homecoming queen. Unfortunately, my parents never let me play organized football because they thought it was too dangerous. I can't even say I was the star on my street. But I can say that I was never not taken seriously in a pick-up game of football again. When I ran out for a pass the quarterback looked my way once in a while. My confidence during a game was sky high. I wasn't an outcast. And that was good enough for me. And it was all thanks to guys like John Madden, Keith Jackson, and Brent Musburger.

Football on TV played an important role in my life as recently as last year. The Super Bowl has almost always been surrounded by family for me. My cousin's birthday is in late January, so we always have the party on Super Bowl Sunday. Last year, however, my Aunt decided he was too old to have a birthday party. This resulted in me, my dad, my brother, two of my uncles, and my brother-in-law all going out to a bar to watch the game. In some families this is common, not in mine. The usual context of us getting together is a big family party. The guys never really go out. So here I was with all these older members of my family, except for my brother in law, and I wasn't feeling real comfortable with it at the beginning.

This may seem strange, but my brother's got fourteen years on me and we never did much bonding. It was kind of like seeing a scene from a movie you've seen a dozen times acted out with different actors. Sitting at a table in a bar watching a football game is something I do with my buddies, not family members. That isn't to say that there wasn't anyone at that table that I didn't like, just not anyone I was se to having a beer with.

We were lucky because it was the best Super Bowl in about a decade. It was the first one I can remember in a long time where the commercials weren't better than the game itself. As the game went on, we started talking about different things than football, though we came back to that topic frequently. I found out things about them tat I didn't know before. Not deep, internal secrets, of course. But things like they were very into the stock market, which is also a big interest of mine. I know millions of people invest, many of my friends invest, but I never knew they invested.

Little things like that were what I learned about them. I found out my brother liked the water so much he decided to buy a boat he had the pink slip with him, he had bought it earlier in the day. It was also different to see my dad hang out and act like a guy and not like a dad. It's side I never really saw before. It wasn't an experience that brought us closer together or anything, we we're already tight as a family. But I got to know them more as people, and I look forward to doing it again this year.

There was something else that watching football on TV gave to me: inspiration. While the abilities of some of the athletes are awesome and impressive, it is not them or their athletic feats that inspired me. Rather it was the off the field actions of one football player, though I am sure he is not unique among his kind. Chris Zorich is a former Chicago Bear, Notre Dame star, and Chicago Prep athlete god. But more than any of that, he's a hell of a nice guy. He was one of the most popular Bears in recent years, and he used that popularity to help others. He started the Chris Zorich Foundation to help needy kids. He has run various programs from Thanksgiving food drives to rewarding inner-city children for completing a reading program with free Bear's tickets that he personally donates. While he may not be unique among his peers, he certainly is rare. His kindness and generosity make an impression. Often during Bear's games, when he was still with the team, you would see commercials of him promoting his organization. His events and programs to help the needy would also make the news at night.

I've always enjoyed volunteering and helping out those in need. But seeing Chris Zorich, and people like him, in action has helped to inspire me with what I hope will be my career. I would like to coordinate special events for corporations that directly benefit charities and other beneficial causes. Maybe this qualifies more as a life future than as a life history, but or past no doubt affects our future. While he may not be the single greatest influence towards my career decision, I cannot downplay the effect he has had or the respect I have for him.

February 1999

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