Student writes about family history in football

My dad started playing football in third grade.

That would have been about 1970. The AFL and NFL had just merged. The New Orleans Saints were the laughing stock of the new combined league, having gone 2-11-1 that season.
In college football, Notre Dame beat #1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl, spoiling UT’s chance at an outright National Title.

As my father stood on the clay field on his first day 40 years ago, he had no idea of what would become of his football career, and what the lingering effects would be.

He ended up at UC Berkeley, where he played quarterback on scout team, and was set to back up future NFL QB Gayle Gilbert before blowing out his ACL in 1981.

Many people are stricken by these effects of playing football, but the game continues to be played. Why do we continue to play a game that breaks us down like acid eating away at a solid metal?

The year is 2008. My dad lies down, an X-ray Machine hovering above his back. For the last few years, he has been complaining about back pain. When he told our chiropractor this, she sent him in for an X-ray.

When the results came back, he learned that he had two fractured vertebrae in his back. They looked to be about 25 years old, and had fused themselves back together over the years. He knew what they were from.

Even after the last play has been completed, and the last hit dished out, the effects still linger. Ask any old football player what still bothers him, and he will give you a list nearly a page long. My grandfather played in the 1950s and says that he still gets back pain from the years of blocking defensive linemen. But he loves the game. He always will. It taught him lessons in life about and gave him father figures that he didn’t have at home, where his father was an alcoholic and his mother was rarely there for him.

“It taught me how to be a man,” he said.

Even though he lives with the pain from hundreds, maybe even thousands of hits taken over a 10- year period at the collegiate and high school level, he wouldn’t take the experience back. Everything he learned playing the game had taught him how to succeed in the real world.

Often I hear football being compared to war, and in some ways it is. It’s violent, raw and dominated by emotion. Human beings have always been fascinated by conflict. From the Odyssey to Saving Private Ryan, war themed works of literature and film have been some of the best selling of all time. Perhaps this is why we love the sport so much. It brings us back to our roots. It lets us see a conflict unfold. It’s one of the only things left that in separates the men from the boys. It’s our link back to the days of rites of passage, to when boys had to prove they were mature enough to become men, something that we rarely see these days.

Time will go on. My dad’s back will still hurt. My grandfather will still feel the hits. Generations will continue to play the game and they will go through what we went through before them. They will play because as Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking said, “it’s the greatest sport in the world.”