“Hey Ryan, want to watch this baseball game with me?”
I knew the answer before I posed the question. Ryan only likes hockey. Well, he loves hockey. He’s obsessed with hockey. Which, in his mind, means there’s no room to enjoy any other sport. Still, I keep trying. We had one glorious afternoon at a Michigan football game (before it got a little dusty up in The Big House). A trip to see the Harlem Globetrotters was less successful. Recently I made a minor-league baseball outing alone with Riley, who is far more willing to try other sports.
“No,” came the predictable reply.
I decided to playfully press further. “But baseball is your second-favorite sport.”
He took the bait. “No it’s not.”
“Yes it is, and I can prove it,” I said. “It’s tied for last with all the other sports behind hockey, which makes it number two.”
He wasn’t having it. But, to my surprise, he offered a rebuttal.
“Football is my second favorite sport.”
Even though I doubted his sincerity, this was music to my ears. Yes, we are a hockey family and hockey has been my favorite sport since I saw my first game as a four-year old. But I also have a healthy love of football, something I have tried, mostly in vain, to share with both my kids since birth. I decided to play along with Ryan.
“Not Michigan,” Ryan said. “I like the NFL.”
I had no idea he understood the difference between the NFL and college football. I had tried to explain it on a couple of occasions but didn’t get anywhere. At least that’s what I thought at the time. Once again, my son proved me wrong. I decided to see how far this would go.
“I like the Buccaneers,” he offered hesitantly.
As much as I’d love to share a favorite team obsession with my son, I didn’t want to sentence him to the fate of rooting for an NFL team that has been mostly horrendous throughout its history.
“Nah, don’t be a Buccaneers fan,” I said, pointing him instead in the direction of our local teams. “They’re terrible. The important question is, who do you like better, the Jets or the Giants?”
I expected he’d choose the Giants. After all, our neighbors and friends are Giants fans and they’re the defending Super Bowl champions.
“I like the Jets,” Ryan said. “The Giants win everything. I don’t want to root for them.”
At this, I smiled. Part of the reason I grew up rooting for the lowly Buccaneers, despite growing up in Washington, D.C. and New Jersey, is that I am a chronic underdog rooter. Other than the Washington Capitals and my recent affinity for the New Jersey Devils, I’ve always stayed away from cheering for local teams altogether. I was proud of my son for picking the Jets specifically because they aren’t the champions. I shared with him a story how, when I was a kid, one of the worst things you could be labeled among sports fans was a “winner picker” — someone who only roots for the best teams. It’s why this country is littered with fans of the Dallas Cowboys, dating to their glory days in the 1970s and 1990s.
I quickly taught him the J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! chant. I told him that when the Jets are bad, fans will joke that it stands for “Just End The Season.”
He thought this was hilarious. He quickly decided to turn it into his own acronym. Predictably, the “s” stood for “sucks” in his version. Some things never change.
I asked Ryan if he’d like to go to a Jets game some time. I’ll jump on any opportunity to expand my son’s interests. I have always hoped he might take an interest in football. With so many numbers and statistics, it seems like a natural fit. But none of them has, as of yet, grabbed his attention the way hockey has.
My hopes weren’t completely dashed. He wasn’t emphatic about it. I’ll bring it up again some time during the upcoming NFL season. Every Saturday and Sunday that I watch football I’ll ask both kids if they’ll watch with me. Riley will sit for a few minutes and implore me to teach her about the game, which I happily do. Ryan will ask who’s winning, and that’s about it. But I will keep trying. Even if he tells me “no” 99 times, attempt number 100 may just be the one that cracks open his horizons by a degree or two.
And you can bet, the first time I hear a “J-E-T-S” chant on TV this fall, I will call him over to watch.