A Lifestyle, Not a Sport

The Texas Story Project.

Needing a touchdown to go, the team gets set. The quarterback calls for the snap, and for the next few seconds, nothing matters except for that little brown ellipse. Everyone runs as fast as they can downfield. Some have a chance, some don’t. The defense is in hot pursuit, as they can’t let by even a single completion. All of a sudden, there is an opening in a piece of the endzone! One of the offensive players finds it and the ball is thrown! The cornerback tries to get there, but with no success! And the ball is...dropped! And now lunch is over. The players head inside to get back to school or work.

You see, these lunchtime games are a staple of Texas football. There are no eligibility rules, everyone goes for it on fourth down, some people don’t even know what the hell they're doing. But even these games can warrant an argument about whether there was a penalty on that one play or whether someone was offsides on a play that doesn’t even matter. You know, none of it actually matters. But at the same time, it all does, especially here in Texas, where football is more of a lifestyle than a sport. Most Texans have it in their everyday lives. They wake up, check the scores and highlights from last night on their phones or by watching Sportscenter. Then, after breakfast and getting dressed, it’s time to go to work or school. As they get into the car, they turn up the radio, but not to music. No, they’re listening to sports talk radio, like Houston’s 790 Westwood 1 or Sportsradio 610. As they are still waking up, they see the orange/yellow light as the sun peeks out over the buildings as cars pour out onto highway 610 while listening to Mike Meltzer or Josh Innes. Then, at school/work, there’s always that conversation going on, “Hey, did you see the game last night?”, a typical topic of discussion in a state ruled by the sport. There’s the casual game at lunchtime, as I was telling you about, in which six or seven people get together and just kind of run around and throw the ball around for a bit. Then, at the end of the day, they come home and watch ESPN as they unwind until they go to sleep and repeat the cycle the next morning.

But all of this football is nothing compared to the one day in a week where a fan can scream and yell and paint their face and get thrills and chills galore. That day of the week is owned by the NFL, and it’s the same day the church used to own (congrats if you got my Concussion reference). Yes, it’s Sunday, where all of the football teams come out to play.

On "Any Given Sunday," there are three key elements to a Texan living room: couch, a table, and a TV. There is an adult or two sitting on the couch, intently watching the TV, clad with a jersey of the team that they are watching, usually the Texans or the Cowboys. So with every call or first down, while some keep it in their heads. Either way, the emotions are flying. Alongside these people there are 2-3 kids or teenagers, also rooting for one of the teams, and may or may not be also jersey-clad. These ones will most likely go out back and throw around the ball a bit later. On the table, there is a lone bag of chips and a bowl of guac or queso. This is a typical Texan household on Sunday.

For the rest of the season, I can walk down to the nearby park to see a pickup game or an organized flag game every day of the week. If I choose, you can go down to the nearest football fields and catch an organized tackle game by a high school, middle school, or other organized team under the Friday night lights. If I’m feeling like a more advanced game, you can go see one of Texas’ 30 NCAA college football teams play a game, but the seats sell out quick, because the die-hard fans are lining up a mile long for a ticket. If I really am feeling a bit more professional, I can see one of the two NFL teams here, the Houston Texans or the Dallas Cowboys square off against a division rival. As you can see, football is taken seriously here. But never more so than in the first Sunday of February, where the holy grail of all football is played; the biggest event in the US and the third biggest sporting event ever: The Super Bowl.

Now picture this: a Super Bowl party, at a fan’s house. People start arriving at around 4:30, two hours before the game starts. Inside, there are tables and tables of all kinds of food: hot dogs, hamburgers, about 10 different types of chips and a dips for each, pizza, alcohol, and everyone’s favorite: barbeque. And I mean real Texas Barbeque. Some people up north consider cooking a few hamburgers and hotdogs ‘barbeque.’ No. That is grilling. You grilled a bit of meat. And believe me, I love grilling. But when you call it barbeque, I have a problem. Real barbeque is sausage, which when cooked right, the skin is almost bursting with the meat and juices. Real barbeque is Brisket, simmered just long enough in its own juices. And no one can forget the tender, fat, juicy, meat-falling-off-the-bones ribs, dripping with barbeque sauce.

There are several types of people here. There are the fans of the two teams playing, decked out in jersey, shirt, shorts, socks, hat, and shoes with their team. They also don’t face and arm paint with the colors of the team. They have to be restrained from tearing up the fans of the other team. There are the football fans, who are watching the game just because it’s the Super Bowl. They come wearing their favorite team’s jersey, even though they aren’t playing. There’s the people who come just for the food. There are the people who don’t follow football, and have no idea what is going on. They are there just because their friends or relatives are there. And of course, there are the people who are rooting for the team that everyone hates, just to be oppositional.

After a few beers and a quick game of ball as the food cooks, everyone moves inside to watch the game. The next few hours are ones filled with tension, yelling, arguing, betting, and people stuffing themselves with food. After this, some will go home feeling happy, some sad, some drunk. But they’re all thinking the same thing as they get into the car: ‘I can’t wait ‘till next season!’.

Christopher Flores is 14 years old, lives in Houston, Texas, is a student at St. Catherine's Montessori. He fell in love with football four years ago, and aspires to play professional football someday.

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