Four Fridays ago, Youngest Son angled across the middle of the field from his wideout position just past the first down marker. The pass was thrown his way, but high, and Youngest Son had to jump to snare it. He did -- and was rewarded for his effort by being clobbered by a mob of defenders.
"Ooooh," said the fans on our visiting sideline.
"Ooooh," I said.
"Ooooh," said Long Suffering Spouse, and with considerable feeling, I might add.
"At least he held on to it," said one of Youngest Son's brothers. Oldest Son and Middle Son were both in attendance. Older brothers are a tough audience.
Youngest Son stayed in the game and caught another pass but, though the game was competitive until the final minutes, Youngest Son's team lost.
Sunday, after Youngest Son returned from Mass and film study (it is
a Catholic school) I asked what he had learned from watching the film.
"I learned I caught a second pass," he said. "I didn't remember that."
"Ooooh," I said. "Maybe we shouldn't mention this to your mother."
We were in the den -- with the TV on and the volume pretty far up. My son and I were speaking in hushed tones. Nevertheless, from the kitchen came a female voice, "What shouldn't you tell me?"
The following week the team went to the far southern suburbs for its Friday night game. Traffic in the greater Chicago area is almost always miserable, but it is never quite so miserable as it is on Friday night. So Long Suffering Spouse and I did not arrive until the middle of the first quarter, with Long Suffering Spouse reminding me with nearly every breath that our being late was entirely my fault. Which, of course, it was.
We took our seats on the visitors' sideline and looked for Youngest Son. When the defense is in, Youngest Son can usually be found standing next to his quarterback or to one of the coaches. We didn't see him right away because he wasn't standing where he usually does. We noticed also that he wasn't on the field as often when our team had the ball: He was out there, yes, but they were substituting for him regularly.
What we missed in those first few minutes of the game was Youngest Son's reception over the middle. Once again, he'd been creamed by a swarm of defenders -- and driven into the turf. As he explained later, when he came off the field he found a teammate who he thought might know and asked, "Quick, tell me: What is the trainer going to ask me?"
The trainer found Youngest Son soon thereafter and asked his questions and Youngest Son (having boned up in the manner described) answered them correctly. The trainer cleared Youngest Son to return to the field... but it was clear, at least in retrospect, that neither he nor the coaching staff thought that Youngest Son was entirely unaffected by the hit.
"Well, this proves you have a brain, son," I told him, "because you've managed to injure it." No, neither Robert Young/ Jim Anderson nor Hugh Beaumont/ Ward Cleaver would have used that line. But we had what seemed, at the time, to be a good discussion about the need for candor in disclosing and assessing injuries. And the Mohawk haircut he got for the following week's big rivalry game was not, in my opinion, related to the brain injuries of the preceding weeks. That was simply the product of the normal, underlying teenage brain damage that Bill Cosby used to talk about.
So, last week, as we went to Youngest Son's game in the western suburbs (and, despite my getting a late start, having come from a wake, we got there before
the opening kickoff), Long Suffering Spouse and I were operating under the assumption that a new era of openness in parent-child communication had dawned between us and Youngest Son.
As we walked into the stadium, though, the athletic director's assistant buttonholed us. "Is your son feeling better?" she asked. "He was really hurting this week."
"This week?" I said.
"No, he seems fine," Long Suffering Spouse said, "he's fully recovered." But Long Suffering Spouse thought we were talking about the head injuries... and so, I suppose, did I.
We noticed, however, that, once again, Youngest Son did not play as much as he might have. There was another player running his route on a touchdown throw. Youngest Son did have two receptions, though, and the team won big, and a lot of people got to see the field. But, still, I thought I'd better revisit the injury issue with him on Sunday after Mass and film study.
"Oh yeah," Youngest Son said, "my back was killing me during the week. I'd get my reps in on offense and Coach would send me to the locker room to ice it."
I asked him how his back felt on game night.
"I was fine," he said. "After my first catch, Coach called me over and asked me the same thing. And that's what I told him." He was quiet for a moment. "I don't think he believed me, though."
Gee, I wonder why.
Long Suffering Spouse later found the heating pad in Youngest Son's bedroom. The good news? The season is almost over -- even if, as a big part of me still wishes, the team goes deep into the playoffs.