It was a crisp fall day in the desolate canyonlands of southern Utah, almost exactly 10 years ago. I was on a week-long road trip with Danielle, my beautiful wife of 8 years, who at the time was my beautiful girlfriend of 5 months.
And I was ranting and raging. On a pristine day in paradise, with orange canyons all around me, I was spitting mad.
Not at Danielle, thankfully. As a rule of thumb, I’m smart enough to know that there is never a viable reason to be angry at my eminently reasonable wife.
No, I was angry because the Philadelphia Eagles had lost a football game.
Danielle and I were taking our sweet time heading back to Colorado, luxuriating in the otherworldly wonders of Utah. In the ensuing decade, the southern swath of this state would become a kind of mecca to which we would make a handful of blissed-out pilgrimages. But right smack dab in the middle of this particular picture-perfect Sunday, I had the brilliant idea of grinding to a halt at a watering hole in Moab in order to watch the Eagles game.
So to be clear, I wanted to sit with my resplendent girlfriend in a daylight-deprived dive bar for three and a half hours on a perfect fall day in one of the places on earth that’s most conducive to perfect fall days. That makes sense, right?
Anyway, the Raiders beat the Eagles 13-9 (a score that’s been rolling around in my brain like two stray ball bearings for a decade). And I then proceeded to throttle our carefree day in the canyonlands by foaming at the mouth about football.
There is an image emblazoned in my mind of Danielle and me pulled over at a scenic stop on the side of route 191, and my brow is furrowed as deep as Zion Canyon as I pace around, gesturing dramatically as I bend and twist Danielle’s ear about Andy Reid’s play-calling, or Donovan McNabb’s red zone inefficiency, or whatever meaningless thing was torquing me out about that game.
I also remember realizing at some point shortly thereafter that I was a horse’s derriere. And then apologizing to Danielle, mortified that I had momentarily sabotaged our road trip with my shallow rage.
In hindsight, it’s as clear as the crystal-blue Utah sky that I was out of my mind to waste half a day in paradise watching a football game in a darkened bar and then twisting my face into knots by the result. But that’s the kind of football fan I was back then. I refused to miss a single quarter of a single game, and I refused to be anything but miserable if the game in question didn’t go my way. I would mope and scowl and act like the universe had done me an unspeakable injustice.
In short, football brought out the worst in me. My entitled self. My petulant self. My lesser angels.
Now fast forward one (very eventful, very happy!) decade to 3 days ago. It was another beautiful fall Sunday featuring another maddening Eagles loss. Or at least it would have been maddening if I had let it in any way madden me. But this time, I sat nervously on the edge of my seat as my team slowly let the game slip out of their fingers. And then as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the Eagles sports writers started furiously scrawling their scathing postmortems, I just… moved on with my day.
Novel concept, right? Why didn’t I think of this 10 or 15 years ago? Of course, it doesn’t hurt that beyond the edges of the laptop screen Danielle and I watched the game on, two sweet and carefree children played happily with each other — giggling and running around and giving their adoring parents a new reason every 30 seconds to beam with pride.
I’m sure that an extra decade of life experience and knowledge of the world has made me a little bit wiser too, placing sports into a realistic context. But the primary catalysts that have helped me evolve — from an ardent, unstable, self-pity-addled, unbearable football fan into a still-ardent but quite stable, self-aware, and (I think my wife would say) bearable football fan — are named Greyson and Violet.
Fatherhood is a pretty airtight way to put everything on earth in perspective. It gives you a front-row audience for all of your unexamined flaws and quirks, offering the purest form of accountability. Don’t want to set a bad example for your impressionable, carefree toddler? Then you’d better not have an ugly meltdown after your football team drops 7 passes in one game. Don’t want to disorient your sweet baby girl? Then maybe don’t contort your face into an unrecognizable sneer just because your football team lost a winnable game at home.
It’s all about stakes. While there were certainly stakes when it was just Danielle and me, I also knew that she knew me well enough to be longsuffering while I ranted about a game not going my way. And boy did I ever rant.
But now that we have kids, the stakes feel so much higher and every moment feels so achingly precious. Do I really want to squander entire Sundays (and even the ensuing Mondays) feeling oppressed by the result of a football game? Heck, Sundays are half the weekend! And weekends are when I can forge indelible memories with Danielle and the kids. I would be out of my mind to disfigure these days with angst about which way an oblong ball bounces — be it off the uprights or out of someone’s hands.
Even beyond that, though, I can’t shake the thought that whatever sort of football fan (and person) I am is the kind of football fan (and person) our kids might grow up to be. Am I willing to actively bequeath a legacy of needing to feel despondent somewhere between 3 and 13 Sundays a year? Do I want to convey to them that their happiness and contentment should be contingent upon a sporting event?
There’s no way on earth I’m willing to put that on our kids. They deserve to see the best possible version of a what it looks like to be a football fan, since that is ultimately a microcosm of what it looks like to respond to the ups and downs of life itself. Modeling healthy emotional behavior for children is vital, and there is perhaps nowhere (other than maybe politics) in which healthy emotional behavior is more lacking than in the realm of sports fandom. I have seen grown men throw the kind of temper tantrums that would make a petulant toddler wince.
And I, more often than I’d like to admit, have been that grown man. Just ask anyone who saw me at the bar in Moab on that glorious October day. Or better yet, just ask Danielle.
But I am that person no longer. And I have my innocent, carefree, wide-eyed kids to thank for it. Like any good eagle father teaching his offspring to fly, I will do anything in my power to not let down the little ones who have been graciously placed in my nest. Anything.
So thank you, Greyson and Violet, for giving me the best possible reason to be a better man than I used to be.
Fly, eaglets, fly.