The Reassuring Return of Football

An ardent, lifelong fan celebrates the impending return of Sunday Gridiron Fundays…

by: Audrey Levitin

In the semi-sad, semi-sweet waning days of summer, a reassuring sound in the distance calls. The tinny rat-a-tat-tat and booming deep sound of snare and bass drums make their way into my bedroom from down the hill, as the local high school marching band prepares for football season. The sound offers a surprising uplift in my mood as I grapple with low-grade August melancholy. I spend time at the local town pool, enjoying the breeze and beauty from the large oak trees, consider the cold water and decide to take a swim while I still can. I walk by light blue summer patio umbrellas and snack tables filled with burgers and fries, the predictable conversations within earshot.

“It feels like it was just May.”

”It goes so fast.”

“I don’t mind fall but I hate winter.”

Darkness comes a bit earlier, and school supplies line the aisles at Staples and Shop-Rite. Then right after Labor Day, it’s Kickoff Day. The coin is tossed, the whistle blown, and the sting of summer’s end is lessened by an annual ritual that brings joy, anguish, and excitement. Together we watch, the people in the stands and the television viewing audience. The ball is snapped, the quarterback steps out of the pocket, the offensive linemen buys him time as he scrambles. He throws. Time stops. We watch mouths agape, hearts pounding, as the unpredictable, the extraordinary, and the miraculous are captured in a football flying through the air. The end of summer no longer feels quite so tragic. We watch with passion a game that grounds us in tradition, family, and affirms our often undermined conviction that with courage, anything in life is possible. 

I was raised in a football family. My brother and I joined our father each Sunday to watch the New York Giants. We weren’t one of those families that drank beer and snacked on potato chips while watching the game in the den. We didn’t have a den. We lived in a small apartment. At 1:00 or 4:00 on Sundays, David and I wandered into our parents’ bedroom, hopped on the bed, lying on either side of my Dad, chin In our hands, facing forward, knees bent, watching the small black and white television. My Dad sat at the edge of the bed, leaning toward the TV, smoking Newports, the glass ashtray nearby on the brown wood nightstand. 

My father almost never cried. He did, however, cry with frustration when the Giants lost a game they should have won, giving up their lead in the last minutes of the fourth quarter. In those moments, he jumped from the bed, cigarette in hand, yelling at the TV. The game ended; the Giants lost. He put his head in his hands, wistfully looked up at us with tears in his eyes, spending a few minutes walking around the bedroom, ranting about the frigging Giants. But win or lose, every Sunday he went out and brought back a pizza from Comet Pizzeria, driving all the way on the other side of town, extra cheese for us and our Mom, and a few slices with anchovies for him. 

At eleven-years-old the tradition took on a new form. On Saturday mornings my Dad drove me to Pop Warner games, football’s version of little league. Playing on the large high school field, my Dad sat in the bleachers, flashing me a smile and a wave while boys ran around trying to play the game when they could barely move in their bulky uniforms. I wore a maroon skirt and a large H on a beige sweater for Hillside, the town in which we lived. I wore white crew socks and black and white saddle shoes, my long hair in a ponytail bouncing when I jumped.

I left my Dad and brother behind and watched football alone the year Broadway Joe Namath unexpectedly led the New York Jets to victory. In 1969, the AFC Jets were 19 point underdogs against the NFC Baltimore Colts. I was mesmerized by Namath’s brash self-confidence, long hair, and white shoes as he predicted victory, bragging to the press: “We are a better team than Baltimore.” I listened to the game on a transistor radio, puffing on my father’s cigarettes, blowing smoke rings, thinking I was so cool, considering the poster on my wall that displayed Broadway Joe, stepping back, ball in hand, ready to throw wide.  

Over the years, no matter where I am or what I am doing, football has remained a source of pleasure and a connection to my childhood and family, and most especially my Dad who passed away too soon. He was with me in spirit in 2008, when in what is considered one of the sport’s great upsets, his beloved Giants beat the season’s undefeated Patriots 17 to 14. The Giants scored the winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining, an experience fans live for. 

It was delicious to watch Eli Manning beat Tom Brady, with his seven super bowl wins and five MVP’s. Enough of you, Tom Brady, was my general feeling. Really, can this guy please stop winning? Then, in a remarkable football drama, Brady was unceremoniously dismissed by the Patriots after bringing them seven super bowl wins. At 42 they reasonably thought he was too old to play another season. He joined the mediocre Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a 7-9 record. The pundits weighed in collectively agreeing, “Oh come on, Tom Brady, it’s over, you’re too old.” I felt bad for the man I loved to hate. And then, he took a second rate team to the Super Bowl and won! Wow. Where does that happen?  It happens in football. 

As summer ends and fall begins, football season is arriving with its drama, its anguish, and its joy. I know what I’m doing on Sundays, at 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm when the games begin on NBC, CBS and Fox. In a world that is increasingly unpredictable, the knowledge that fall is coming, football is happening, and the marching band is back, brings me happy comfort and a sense that at least some things are still right with the world.  


Audrey Levitin is a Senior Consultant at CauseWired, a firm working with human rights and civil liberties organizations. For 15 years she was the Chief Development Officer at the Innocence Project. Ms. Levitin is an essayist and her work has been seen in Across the Margin, the Star Ledger, and Cape Cod Life. She and her husband, photographer Nick Levitin live in West Orange, New Jersey. She is a lifelong football fan.

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