When I was six years old, my father worked with a man from Texas. His son had outgrown his Dallas Cowboys jacket, and it was given to me in a pile of other hand-me-downs. Since we were a Navy family, we moved every few years. I never lived in Dallas, or any other football town, so choosing a team to root for was an abstract exercise for me. * I loved the jacket with its blue corduroy and white lettering, and so it only made sense that I would love the team as well.
How it must have frustrated my father, born and raised in Philadelphia, that his only son would not merely refuse to cheer for his beloved Eagles, but would actually root for their division rivals instead. He had grown up following Philadelphia sports with his own father. As an adult, living on the opposite coast, it probably would have meant a great deal to him for me to sit next to him on Sundays and cheer for his hometown team. Though he would tease me about liking the “Cowgirls” and shake his head whenever I pretended to be Danny White or Tony Dorsett, he never pushed the issue.
I am grateful that he gave me that space. Rooting for the Cowboys was one of the few iconoclastic acts I performed as a child. In almost every other measure, I was a dutiful son and a conformist. I obeyed the rules and got good grades. Each time we moved to a new town, I would have to figure out how to fit in with a new group of kids at an unfamiliar school. Although my parents brought their Philadelphia culture, background and experience with them wherever we moved, they knew that my sister and I had no hometown that might form part of our own identities. Instead, we were becoming a product of the experiences we were gathering in varied parts of the country.
Today my five-year-old daughter informed that she would be cheering for the Giants tonight, not the Cowboys. This is not her first act of rebellion: two months ago I took her to see the Duke-Miami football game and she rooted for Miami “since that’s where we live now.” Of all people, I cannot fault her for this (especially since in both cases she picked the winning team). Instead, I feign overly dramatic sadness and tell her she is breaking my heart. She laughs, recognizing that I am kidding. While I would love for her to sit next to me and cheer for my beloved Cowboys and Blue Devils, I am much happier that she is finding her own ways to express herself and explore her own identity.
And there is still plenty of time for her father to someday end to his itinerant lifestyle and find a town we can all call home. Hopefully it will also have a football team we can all root for, as long as it’s not the Washington Redskins.
____________________________________________________________________________________________* We did live in Los Angeles while the Rams and Raiders played there, but I would never consider LA a “football town.”