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ANN BAILEY: Whether watching or playing, football has become a family affair

During the fall a frequent request at our house is "Can you play football with us?" For several years the question came out of the mouths of my sons, Brendan and Thomas, but this year it's also being asked by my daughter, Ellen.

Ann Bailey
Ann Bailey

During the fall a frequent request at our house is "Can you play football with us?" For several years the question came out of the mouths of my sons, Brendan and Thomas, but this year it's also being asked by my daughter, Ellen.

At age 6 Ellen is eager to get in on the game she had to watch from the sidelines for years "because she was too little." During the past few weeks she's learned how to hike the ball, that she can't pass the ball forward after she starts running and that even though it hurts when you get pushed over during "touch" football, you don't complain about it to your brothers.

Those were lessons I learned about her age. Not only did it help me understand the nuances of football and make it more enjoyable to watch high school, college and professional games, it developed a love of the game. I still enjoy watching Larimore High School and UND football games, though I am less excited about the Minnesota Vikings than I was in my younger days.

My interest waned after Fran Tarkenton, my hero, and Bud Grant, former Minnesota Vikings head coach, both retired. Today's football just doesn't seem as real, somehow. I have trouble with athletes who make multi-millions whining and getting into trouble.

Game day


I like playing football, too, when I have the time. For many years I played nearly every Sunday afternoon with friends and family. We'd go to a Grand Forks park, pick sides and spend hours running up and down the field. My team knew that when I was quarterback the most common play would be "everybody out." Even if I didn't plan that when I was in the huddle, it was fairly likely to end up that way because when I saw the defense bearing down on me, getting rid of the ball was a top priority.

It's a good thing I like football because I've been spending a lot of time in the bleachers or walking along the sidelines during the games of my sons Brendan, a seventh-grader and Thomas, a fifth-grader. Both started playing when they were in fourth grade so my husband, Brian, and I have spent many fall Saturdays near the gridiron. This year, Brendan plays on Monday nights so we're attending those games, too.

I have to admit, though, that while I enjoy watching my sons play, I also worry a bit when they receive a hard hit. They're both lean and don't have any extra fat to cushion them when they fall as a result of a hard tackle or when someone falls on them.

Fierce competitors

Brendan and Thomas don't let their size faze them, however. They give the game their all and when they're on offense, Brendan, a quarterback, and Thomas, a wingback, work to use their quickness to their advantage. When they play defense they aren't afraid to tackle guys that look (to me, anyway) like they're twice my sons' size.

Because the boys are used to playing all-out, hard hitting football during games, they don't let up much when they play touch football. I learned that a couple of weeks ago when I accepted an invitation to play with Brendan, Thomas, Ellen and Brian. I hadn't played yet this year and it was a beautiful evening, so I figured it was an offer I couldn't refuse.

I'm glad I accepted the challenge. It was a good game and a fun way to get exercise. We were playing the kids against the parents and Brian and I were marching down the field pretty successfully when he called a pass play.

I was racing down the field and reaching up to grab the ball when my face collided with Brendan's arm and hand, which were trying to bat the ball down. The contact smarted and I had to stop to get my bearings. As I was standing there, Ellen said "Mom, you're bleeding." I reached up to touch my nose and felt blood on my fingertips. It wasn't from a nosebleed, but a scrape caused by Brendan's strong defensive instincts.


The pain was worth the gain

He felt bad about hurting me, but I assured him that with three older brothers I had experienced worse injuries and that the sympathy hadn't been as good.

My nose looked a bit bruised for a couple of days but it's healed now and I'm anxious to get back in the game. Rather than deter from playing, our last family game got me excited about being back on the field.

I forgot how much fun it is to try to outwit opponents during running plays and how good it feels to throw the ball and have someone catch it. I'll just have to keep an eye out when Brendan's on the defense and make sure that I don't go nose to nose with him.

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