I have two sons, and you might think I’ve filled countless Sundays rallying, "Let’s go play football!" or "Grab a beer—or sippy cup, whatever—it’s game time!" Not me.
Fathers in myths and fairy tales have always tried to stop the evil enchantments cast on their children. Sleeping Beauty’s King Stefan famously ordered his kingdom’s spinning wheels burned so his daughter wouldn’t prick her finger on a sharp spindle and fulfill the evil fairy Maleficent’s curse. Similarly, when my boys were very small, I did not buy a television for our house. I ordered no football books. I refused to throw a football.
“Don’t you want to play catch with them?” my wife would ask. “What’s better than that?”
“I don’t want them to be football fans like me," I said.
“Because football is legalized violence and, when the game is over, players go home and use the same violence on their wives and kids?” she asked.
“No. That is truly bad," I'd say. "There's something else."
When you turn 7, it’s like black magic, a maleficent curse: You become a football fanatic. I was the worst kind of fan as a kid. If my team was losing, I was convinced it was my fault and I needed to change where I was sitting. I cried bitterly when they lost. I ruined family trips to stay home watching football all day.
"Why don't you just play catch?" my wife asked again and again.
I stood my ground: No TV; no football.
Our first 7 years of childhood were wonderfully innocent. We loved fire trucks. We didn’t have to worship football stars; we had firefighters. “Hi,Brittany!” “Hey, Blaylock!” we shouted to our favorites during local parades. We stood outside fire stations until the firefighters came out to talk to us. Who needed NFL
jerseys? We collected black plastic firefighter hats.
Then came Bob the Builder. “Can we build it? Yes, we can!” We wielded toy hammers and lived for construction-site backhoes and dump-truck videos. It wasn't long before we fell in love with dinosaur books and wrestled like sharp-toothed carnivores and spiky tail herbivores. Toy creators magically anticipated our every phase. How did they know to make plastic hammers for us at age 3 and “Dinosaur Train” mini figures for age 5?
I thought about the nature-vs.-nurture debate. Was I nurturing the boys in certain, boyish ways? What about my friends whose daughters suddenly wore only pink? But I couldn’t ask them, in the interest of their girls’ curse avoidance: “Haven’t you been hiding the pink things?”
When my oldest turned 7, he wasn’t aware of football. I congratulated myself: I had beaten the curse! Then, in late 2013, he watched the Denver Broncos on my parents' tv—the only spindle in our kingdom—and he was entranced. This was a boy who hated to sit still for five minutes, and he’d been motionless through the whole game. Who was to blame? Did he learn about football at school? Where? How?
That night, my wife answered my despair with her questions. "What did you do when the boys were babies and couldn't fall asleep?” she asked. “Didn't you take them for a drive? What did you listen to on the radio? What were you watching on the computer when they napped in your lap?”
She was right. I had listened to football on the radio and watched it on the computer. "I thought they were asleep," I said.
That year, we went to a Super Bowl party because Denver was playing. Denver started off badly. I insisted that we abandoned sociability at halftime, and we fled to my parents’ house. Denver continued to lose.
“This game must be fixed by cheaters,” I whined, retreating to my childhood room in search of good luck charms. What had I done during the 1981 Super Bowl to turn things around—did I hold the dog leash in my left hand and Mr. Potato Head in my right? Then I heard laughter coming from the kitchen. My sons were eating ice cream with their grandma. They were over Denver's loss. I smiled because my 7-year-old had healthily weathered the Super Bowl. He wouldn’t suffer like me.
I welcomed the 2014 season. We played catch. We memorized our football heroes. We wrestled and tackled. But, as the season went on, my oldest became increasingly fanatic on Sundays. He left birthday parties early. We had to download the NFL Mobile app. We couldn’t go skiing, even if Denver played after the lifts closed. When Denver lost in the playoffs, my son cried for five solid minutes. He had to be restrained from punching the television.
Denver’s loss does not exempt us from Super Bowl fandom, though. It’s our duty and our curse: We must root passionately against our team’s two arch-enemies because Maleficent’s spindle is bright Bronco orange in our fairy tale. Neither Seattle nor New England would win if we could help it—so we’re doomed to a joyless Super Bowl Sunday. This year… We’ll start monitoring the Bronco’s 2015/16 prospects on Monday. Let your 7-year-olds beware.
Zachary Shandler, an assistant Santa Fe city attorney, will be watching Super Bowl XLIX with his two boys. Their combined football-jersey collection is vast.