Touchdown, Arizona

Touchdown, Arizona

I connect my laptop to the T.V. in my room and begin streaming the Cardinals vs. Seahawks game; the final match of the 2017 season. Yes, the Cardinals were out of the playoffs, but they could stop Seattle from making the post-season.

“Why can’t you just watch on regular cable?” My mom asks.   

“We’re in Texas, Mom. They don’t air Arizona games,” I remind her.

Dad peeks in from time to time, but ends up staying near the end, when Seattle is set up for a game-winning field goal. I slump on my bed.

The ball flies far from the post and I bolt up, hollering. My dad smiles. Cardinals win.

 

When I first peeked in on my dad watching his Sunday pro-football games, I thought it was just a bunch of bulky men tackling and piling on top of one another. I wasn’t completely wrong, but as my dad explained the game to me and as I began to join him weekly and understand the sport more, I finally began to see the beauty and art behind it. Football is not unlike a fluid, shifting, unedited action film. In a game, each play is a scene. Some are poorly directed, the actors miscommunicate and don’t deliver, or they goof up lines and actions. But there are moments when the ball is soaring in a graceful arc through the air, and everything slows: all noise fades into silence, the background blurs into a mesh of fuzzy colors, the smooth, brown leather shines despite the specks of dirt that cling on, the spiral mesmerizes the crowd with its pulsating turn, turn, turn. Then, it lands softly into the arms of a receiver, and the crowd explodes. A perfect scene. Before long, I went from a seven-year-old girl who just moved to Arizona with little-to-no knowledge of what the ridiculous sport was, to a nineteen-year-old, hard-core Arizona Cardinals fan who watched every weekend with her dad.

 

Starting college meant that I couldn’t enjoy weekly Sunday pro-football games with Dad anymore. During my first year, my closest friends were all international students who neither understood nor cared about American football, and I found myself unable to drag anyone into watching games with me. Most days, I followed the scoring and play-by-play online, waiting eagerly for the short video-highlights to upload. Still, I missed someone to marvel with over the beautiful one-handed catch and “toe-drag-swag” on the sideline and scream with over that missed, winning field-goal.

And then one Sunday night at 7:53 PM, as I’m struggling with engineering homework, I get a single text:

NE at AZ tonight!

I blink at my phone and smile quietly. Tonight was the New England Patriots vs. the Arizona Cardinals game, and my dad thought of me.

My dad and I don’t text much; when we do, it’s usually the quick one or two updates about weather, good morning and good nights, or asking about food and weekend plans. The next week, he texts me again:

AZ vs. Tampa Bay 24 to 0 now.

And a few weeks later I text him:

Cardinals lost :(

Here began a series of texts that revolved around football. Even though they’re short and simple, I somehow know they carry hidden messages. When he sends:

Cardinals was terrible against Eagles

I know it probably also means something like: “How are you doing? I hope you’re working hard. It’s good to get used to challenges and obstacles. I miss you and love you.” And when I reply:

Yes, I stopped watching early. Sad.

I also mean: “Hey dad, hope you can find some time to relax. I know you’re working 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM shifts so that sis and I can attend college. I wish you didn’t have to, and I’m worried you’re overworking. I miss you and love you.” But I’m not brave enough to appear vulnerable. So I stick to:

Are you watching Cardinals on Fox? They recently got runner AP. So good so far!

And at least I have an excuse to text him from week to week.

 

In fall of 2016, a few months into my freshman year, I unexpectedly lost a very close friend. I suddenly found myself between work and woe, trapped between tissues and tests. But on Sunday nights, I would grab my backpack and adventure to find a T.V. airing the Cardinals game.

Usually, I trekked across the chilly night to another dorm where there was usually a large group of boys that watched the games. I sat at one of the circular tables behind the T.V., pretending to work while silently peeking at the game and listening, amused, to the boys’ reactions and their arguments about which team, which player, was better.

One time at GADU, the game is between the Seattle Seahawks and Cardinals. My dad texts me:

Are you watching AZ game?

I reply:

Yes I am!

The game goes into overtime with each team only having scored one field goal. When the Cardinals get the ball, teams tied at six points each, Cardinals quarterback Palmer throws a succession of high, airy, beautiful passes to set up for a field-goal that will be game-winning. It’s a twenty-something yard field goal so I’m thinking this will be smooth sailing. I’ve already packed and stood, ready to leave. Hike: the kick is crooked, low, and the ball bounces off the field goal post. The boys in front of me are yelling “what even!” and I feel a sinking depression. The Seahawks now get the ball and if they score, they win.

The seven boys in front of me are all standing now, blocking the T.V., so I dodge to the side here and there behind them to get a view of the screen. The Seahawks set up for a field-goal, roars of anticipation from the crowd pumping energy back into the fatigued players. Hike, the ball is kicked: it doesn’t flip, doesn’t rotate, but swerves left, completely missing the field goal. The boys in front of me go insane; one guy starts running around the room crazily, screaming with his hands above his head, knocking chairs to the ground and even I let out an “OH MY GOD.” The game closes in a tie. The boys in front of me are still angrily arguing who would have won if certain calls were or weren’t made.

While I’m leaving, my phone buzzes:

I cannot believe it! Both teams missed FG.

I text my dad goodnight. When I return to my dorm, I can still feel the adrenaline of the game rushing within me. Knowing that the Cardinals play next Sunday keeps me looking forward to one more thing week to week.

 

When I bought my first NFL-official football the summer after my freshman year, I convinced my mom to come throw with me and my dad. We went out to a nearby field and stood in a triangle, and my parents learned how to throw the football with me. We didn’t talk about much, simply commenting on which throws were pretty, different ways to get the ball to spiral, and how to push the forearm forward.

I brought my football with me to school the fall of my sophomore year, and by this time knew a couple of guys who would play with me. Once, my friend RR and I got together to throw a few dirty passes together in the open field in front of the dining hall and main quad dorms. Just as we start, a boy walks over and politely asks us if he can join. Pleasantly surprised, RR and I eagerly nod. RR asks for his name, and I hear something like “Compsci.” Compsci’s a freshman who’s undecided in major, used to play soccer, and roots for the Atlanta Falcons. That’s all I find out about him that day, but that’s more than I need to know to enjoy football with him.

It rained earlier that morning, so the ball gets soaked in mud when it crashes into the ground, our hands get caked in dirt and grass, our shoes sink into the too-soft mush, and sweat sticks to our skin. But we stay, we pass, we run ridiculous routes. A security guard is walking along with a drink in his hand, making his way toward the bus stop. He sees us playing, grins, and jokingly holds up his hand to mock catching the ball. RR shouts “are you serious?” and chucks the ball across the field where the guard attempts to make the catch one-handed, but the ball slips and tumbles away. A bit later, Compsci sends the ball flying way past me and it tumbles near the dining hall stone path where several students and visiting families are walking. A father in a Duke basketball jersey sees the ball and eagerly jogs to pick it up, stretching out his arms to pass it back to us. He must be joking when he says “I haven’t played in a while!” because he sets off a perfect pass down to RR who catches it cleanly in his arms and we all cheer. The father waves farewell and rejoins his wife and little kids.

I’m still not entirely sure why I care about this sport so much. Maybe because when I’m watching the highlights, if I’m not able to watch the entire game, it’s three minutes of just being able to forget everything else. It’s me, the quarterback, the ball, and the receiver. And when the football is soaring through the air, spiraling, spiraling, spiraling, all noise fades to silence and I’m in the stands. Eyes glistening, heart pounding, waiting for that call: Touchdown, Arizona.

Photo by Rachael Lau