In the Shadows of Friday Night Lights

How could a woman who still has no idea what a “first down” is find herself so captivated at Friday night football games?

It’s easy. In the past few years, my sports cluelessness has allowed me to keenly observe the hundreds and hundreds of folks off the field. There is juicy stuff there.

I have tailgated. I have chatted with moms confessing similar ESPN aversions. I have eavesdropped without mercy.

It seems to me a high school football game is a microcosm of life. I think every person who attends this all-American event arrives with a little bucket of hope. Only, every hope is different.

If you start with the basics, the kids on each team and the entire crowd hope for a win. But then it gets more complicated. And I suspect the hope of which I speak has many tentacles because, as I’ve already hinted, I’m wide-eyed and nosey.

Now in year three of attending high school games, I have meticulously catalogued the vibe, from serious to silly. If I were to guess what others quietly hope for on these magical Friday nights, based purely on this anecdotal, mustard-stained research, here’s how it would go:

Band Mom: “I hope the crowd realizes this punchy music, this amazing performance of coordination, is not coming out of thin air. These kids practice their tails off, too.”

Future Valedictorian: “Must maintain the GPA. Must maintain the GPA.”

Hair-Flipping Sophomore Gal: “There he is about twelve bleachers up. I hope he notices me.”

The Guy Twelve Bleachers Up: “Come on, defense!”

Soccer Dad: “Why don’t my daughter’s games attract crowds like this? I hope it doesn’t bother her. First down! Yes!”

Mother Who Stayed Because Freshman Needs a Ride Home: “Ugh, front row the day before my hair appointment! I hope the folks behind me don’t notice the gray roots. It’s chilly here. I wonder if my baby needs his jacket.”

Freshman Who Needs a Ride from His Mother: “If Mom brings my jacket to the student section again, I will die.”

Benchwarmer: “I hope they need me tonight.”

Team Doctor: “I hope they don’t need me tonight.”

Forty-Nine-Year-Old Uncle of Starting Quarterback: “I hope they have college scouts here.”

Nine-Year-Old Cousin of Starting Quarterback: “I hope they have Skittles here.”

Every High School Senior on the Field and at the Stadium: “Last home/away game for me. I hope…”

I have no idea what today’s 18-year-old hopes for. My only wish is that every one of them at the game, or not at the game, knows he or she is first-string. Whatever a teen clutches most — books, helmets, trumpets, beakers, words, baseballs, dance shoes, calculators, paintbrushes — it’s up to us grown-ups to shine lights brighter than the Friday night kind on every single kid.

And, at all costs, it’s up to us to never, ever hand-deliver a jacket to the student section.