Down and Distance

Despite growing up with three older brothers, I have never been fond of football. I occasionally caught the Super Bowl with friends, but not out of genuine enthusiasm. Once, I had a crush on a boy in my freshman class who was obsessed with the game, so I made an effort to learn the basic premise. Even with my brother’s help, the jargon of downs and yards was like a foreign language. I figured my lack of interest would keep me from ever understanding the sport.

Then I got married. To a Seattle Seahawks fan. Who cried when he spoke of Super Bowl XL, when they lost to the “Stealers.” At least he had the good taste to root for a Pacific NorthWest team. September no longer meant the start of school, cooling weather, or autumn colors. It was football season! I soon realized that if I was to be spending every Sunday on my couch, cheering and shouting at my television, I needed to learn the basics.

The concept of down and distance was as difficult for me to grasp as advanced physics. My husband did his best to explain: each team gets four attempts to move the football ten yards. Each attempt is a down. So far, I understood. All that followed was a barrage of obscure mathematics. Second-and-twelve? Third-and-long? The announcers were like chattering monkeys, understood only by true American football fans, including my six-year-old son, who seemed to have instinctively grasped the knowledge from birth.

The moment the veil lifted was not during a monumental game, or a date I circled on the calendar. I simply recall following a play and seeing how simple this fundamental rule had been all along. When I mentioned this epiphany to my husband, he gave me a proud kiss, and said, “You got it!”

I’m still unsure of all the correct terminology, and there are far more advanced rules and tactics that confuse me faster than some of those players can run. But I learned that watching someone love something is enough to help you learn to love it yourself. And that first-and-forever might be fun to say, but isn’t a good way for the Seattle offense to start.