You can pick your Lotto numbers. Your pizza toppings. Even your kids’ noses, in a pinch. But, no matter how hard you try, you can’t pick your kids’ favorite teams.
When a man’s child pledges allegiance to a team, it’s the first lesson in loyalty. Pride. Passion. Trash talk. A world of high hopes, unwavering pride, dashed dreams, and reliance on the belief that you’ll get ‘em next year. Or the year after that.
The colors. The logo. The history. The immediate connection when you meet someone wearing your team’s colors – or the instant disdain felt when they sport your rivals’.
As a boy, I pledged my allegiance to the lowly Seattle Seahawks, an expansion NFL team featuring my hero, Jim Zorn, a tough-luck, left-handed quarterback. I brought my poster of Zorn to school; my gym teacher hung it above the back entrance.
I welled with pride with every lap and missed basketball layup under it. Every other kid at Centennial Elementary boiled over with vitriol, and took shots at my hero with dodge balls.
“This is my son, Eli,” Dad would say to friends, then look down. “He’s a Seahawks fan.”
“I’m sorry,” they’d respond, and shake their heads. They’d give me that look, as if I’d contracted the first case of leprosy / projectile diarrhea / chronic halitosis hybrid virus.
As a boy, I once foolishly leaped in the air to celebrate a missed field goal that gave my Seahawks a 13-10 victory against Denver. In my dad’s living room. Off his couch. Just feet from my embarrassed dad and stunned, angry uncle.
After my awful crime, I retreated to hide in the bathroom. My dad closed in quickly. And joined me.
I’d disgraced the Broncos, and my father. I got a good talking-to that day. A good one.
That marked my last Seahawks celebration under his roof.
At age 16, I converted on my own, from the Seahawks to Broncos. When Dad moved us to North Carolina, I felt a pull to pull for the team of my home state. I’ve been blue-and-orange ever since. My sister and I grew up in Broncos Country, watching our dad and uncles and grandpa live and die with Red Miller, Rick Upchurch and John Elway, listening to my grandpa break down the losses at the kitchen table, hair mussed, eyes tired, voice weak.
He’d just shake his head.
My daughters have chosen their teams: Elise, the San Francisco 49ers (because I took her to see the Panthers play them on her birthday); Marie, the Arizona Cardinals (only after she pared the 32-team NFL to five finalists, slept on the choice, then picked the team with the red jerseys and cool mascot); and Grace, recently switched from the Denver Broncos to the Carolina Panthers because of Cam Newton.
If their teams can beat my Broncos, the ice cream is on me. If my Broncos win …
“Daddy,” Elise peeped after a Broncos win. “I don’t have any money to buy ice cream.”
It’s OK. It’s still on me.
In fact, Elise got her ice cream revenge one year in a preseason game. Her 49ers hung a last-minute field goal on my Broncos to win. She celebrated unabashedly, in a 49ers T-shirt, fists thrust into the air, legs kicking.
I just smiled.
Maybe I’ve lost my edge. I secretly want the Cardinals and 49ers and even Panthers to beat my Broncos if they have the chance. They’re my kids’ teams.
“This is Elise / Marie / Grace,” I’d say to anyone who would listen.
“She’s a 49ers / Cardinals / Panthers fan.”
And she picked her team all by herself.