Football is (finally) back

By Gray Hughes

ON THE ROAD TO VICTORY — Hill City Prevailer News Editor Gray Hughes before his beloved Eagles won the Super Bowl in February of 2018. [Submitted Photo]

It’s back. After six months of it being gone…it’s back.

I am talking, of course, about the return of football. (And if you think this column is going to touch the political issues of football — even with a 6-foot pole — you’re crazy.)

While baseball and hockey are my two favorite sports, football is a close third. To be honest, it’s more like baseball is 1a, hockey is 1b and football is 1c.

My two loves in football are Penn State for college football and, as you might have known or guessed, the Philadelphia Eagles for pro ball.

I’d rather watch a college football game than a pro game, to be honest. There’s something about the college game that the pro side doesn’t have. I think it’s the unbridled passion I see when watching Penn State (or any other Big 10, SEC, ACC, Big 12, PAC 12 or big name Independent like Notre Dame). The fans, in my opinion, are more passionate, and I love the pageantry behind college football.

But even though I would rather watch college football than pro ball, I’d watch a Birds game any day of the week over a college game.

I am writing this the day of the Birds’ first preseason game. While preseason doesn’t matter at all, that doesn’t mean I still wasn’t paying attention. I was tuned into 94.1 WIP out of Philadelphia to listen to my favorite radio hosts discuss our upcoming season.

I have a long, storied relationship with football. I only played for one year (flag football) and I was terrible, but I have been a fan pretty much my whole life.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love football, but I was a bigger football fan when I was a kid, particularly in between fifth and seventh grade.

And I was bad. Like, really bad. I cried when we lost (which was a lot during that 2005 season when I was in sixth grade). When I was in fifth grade, I missed a day of school after the Eagles lost the Super Bowl because I just couldn’t go in. During that timespan, if I wasn’t sitting in front of the TV watching my Birds play I was really not happy.

Now, I’m different since, you know, I’m older and wiser. I won’t lie, though; if the Birds still lose I am not happy, but it’s not going to ruin my week like when I was 12.

But football, to me, is more than watching football.

When he was still alive, I loved watching football with my grandfather. Like I have said before, he was a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan. When he would come and visit me during football season, we would arrange our schedule around when our teams were on. If our teams were playing at the same time, we would either watch the Birds play and record the Steelers game to watch immediately after or vice-versa.

To be honest, it’s going to be weird not watching football with him this year. Even last year when he was in his nursing home and his health was failing, I still made it a point to watch as much football with him as possible, not knowing how many more snaps we would be able to watch together.

This kind of brings me to my main point: my love of football isn’t necessarily about following the team. Yes, I read up on the latest Eagles news to stay current on the team and I play fantasy football, but football is more than that.

When I watch football, especially the Eagles, it’s with the people that matter the most to me. Whether it’s my friends from high school (none of which were Eagles fans), my friends from college (only a few of whom were Eagles fans) or my family, watching football was always a communal activity.

And I feel bad for the people who watch the Eagles game with me. Like most (all) Birds fans, I am, well, passionate and enthusiastic — even to this day, even though I am a grown man who knows getting upset or yelling at the TV won’t change anything. But I digress.

Football brings a community together. I used to love going to Eagles games when I was younger because I liked being a part of the community. I like watching the Eagles game with my family because they’re all fans of the Birds. I even like watching Birds games with my friends (even if they aren’t Eagles fans) because of the community aspect of it.

In my opinion, nothing brings together a community like football. That’s one of the reasons why I am so excited to watch and cover the Rangers this season.

Neither my high school nor college had a football team (which is why I am a Penn State fan even though I didn’t go there), so I never got to experience the community aspect of football.

This year, though, it’ll be different now that my adopted hometown high school has a team.

So, this football season, embrace the community aspect of it. Embrace its power to bring people together.

And make sure you raise a beer to or eat an entire container of peanuts for my grandfather, who is up there watching his beloved Steelers.