Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Strange World of College Football Christmas

“The worst Christmases were when I was home with the family. I was grumpy and they were sad. We all wished I was getting ready for a bowl.” So an old and wise football assistant coach introduced me to the strange world of College Football Christmas. A linebacker told me two years ago, “yeah, I’m going home to be with the family, I hate it!”  He mused about how he’d have to watch all his friends on TV at various bowls around the country.

I saw the best statement yesterday in the Seattle Times when the Husky’s young coach Steve Sarkesian said, “I tell them don’t ever give me anything for Christmas…They already gave me the best gift that I could have. That’s waking up in a hotel on Christmas Day at a bowl game and then going to practice.”

Waking up in a hotel is the best gift he could have!

Now that summarizes the wackiness and joy of college football bowl season. I know all the arguments for a national championship, but still love the fact that 70 teams of kids get to celebrate with each other and enjoy a visit to a city and one last game all before a new semester starts.

But think about this world. This is a time those of us who celebrate Christmas see to gather with family and friends and celebrate, exchange gifts. We are grateful for the gift of love and redemption in the world that expresses itself in our love for each other.  Now college football players and coaches suffer when they sit around the table with family, friends and presents. They suffer the loss of not playing, not being with each other and the knowledge that their season failed.

For the players their closest friends and companions are each other. They share four or five years of sacrifice, pain, competition, joy, suffering, failure and accomplishment with each other. Their most lasting memories will be of each other, not of the victories and loses. They are all young adults and can live time away from family if they are with their second family.

Coaches experience this as a celebration of their work and effort. They see this as vindication for their efforts and commemoration and festivity for the hard work of their “kids.” The coaches live in each others lives and wounds during the season and for them, spending this time away from family and sanity is hard but satisfying.

Really the deepest losses for this strange way to celebrate Christmas are for the young coaches whose spouses and young children spend the Christmas season with tree, family but without dad. This is a deeper sadness at the core of all coaches, male and female, who spend such consuming lives recruiting, worrying, planning and coaching their teams, away from their family. As one coach told me, “sometimes I think I am a better parent to my players than my children.”

But this Christmas on the road, Steve Sarkesian and the Huskies and 60 other teams will wake in hotel rooms on Christmas morning happy and satisfied. They will practice on Christmas day, work hard and eat hearty with the people they have spent the year with, with their friends and team members. For those of us who have gone to their banquets and know that these young athletes express with tears their “love” for each other, then maybe this is the best way to spend Christmas. To be with, play with, and work with those you love and respect.



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