For the Love of the Game

This morning, church was held at Fusion, the indoor sports complex our church bought years ago. Last time I was there, it was for a soccer game when Ted and I played on an indoor team a few years ago.

Walking in with my mom, the familiar smell of Fusion took me back to those games. It’s the smell of the ground up rubber they use on the turf to soften the blow when you fall.  That smell is distinctive.

That smell always elicited nervous excitement and hopes that I’d play well, or at least not embarrass myself in front of my male teammates – most importantly Ted. The smell became associative, a trigger for those emotions.

When I smelled it this morning, that feeling came back…but then was quickly overtaken by other ones when my conscious brain caught up with what my subconscious was interpreting through the memory of smell. New feelings of emptiness, heartache, anguish, what was and will never be again, flooded my heart.

Ted and I started playing on a coed team the year we got married and played every season up until I was five months pregnant. At first, we were just happy to get on a team together, but after a few seasons, we took over our own team and we loved leading it together.

Ted was the captain (duh) and I was the encourager. He was exceedingly competitive so when he’d coach (read: yell) from his command at center defense or goal, I’d compensate by cheering everyone on when I still had enough breath to cheer.IMG_0548As with all things, he was a great teacher, so I’d have him run drills with me in the backyard after work. More than once, we had to knock on our neighbor’s door to ask if we could open their gate and get our ball back.  Ted would play with me until dark and sometimes we’d play by porch light if darkness set before we were ready to come in.  For Easter, he bought me a practice net and little orange cones to dribble around – it was the best Easter present I’ve ever gotten.

All of it reminded me of being a kid, only better. When I was a child, or even a teen, I didn’t care as much how I played, but as an adult, I did.  So I put effort into it and saw improvement – which only made us want to play more.  We’d talk about our defensive maneuvers on the drive into work and do shuttle runs in the gym until we felt nauseous.

While I was a great encourager for our team, Ted was the best encourager for me. He called us the Irish Wall when we were on the defensive line together and I loved being on the field with him.  What the 20-year-olds had on him with stamina and speed, he made up for it with smarts and teamwork.  He was so good at pulling us all together, and he made it fun.

We coordinated team practices, had our teammates over to watch the Olympics, and brought orange wedges to the games. The guys assumed that was all me and though Ted wanted me to go along with that, it was he who deserved the credit. He shopped for the oranges, washed and cut them, and packed them neatly into our Tupperware.  At first it was kind of a joke as we all remembered the orange wedges from Saturday morning soccer games as kids, but then our teammates grew to look forward to them at the end of each game.  No matter how hectic of a day he had a work, Ted never forgot the oranges, even if it meant running back to the store after he’d already come home from the office.

On the way to a game one day, Ted busted out a clipboard he made with a backing that took dry erase markers. He had the whole lineup for that night’s game figured out and he was going to brief it during warm-ups. This was around the time that NBC ran the Ted Lasso campaign to promote their new coverage of the premier league and it was too good not to capitalize on.  So we named our team the HotspurS (with an S, à la Ted Lasso).  Ted made sure the team all watched it to get amped up before our first game that season.

We lived for the World Cup, CONCACAF, the Olympics. When big games were going on during the work week, we’d end up meeting in the break room to snag a few minutes of the game before getting back to our desks.  We flew down to Boca to see the Women’s National Team play a friendly against China in 2012 and stood amongst dozens of preteen girls who were scream/squealing in the stands after the game in a failed attempt to get one of the players to sign our program.When we went to Ireland for our first anniversary, we bought an Irish soccer jersey for a child we hadn’t even conceived yet. When we went to Sweden, we bought a Swedish soccer jersey for “the baby in the belly,” as Ted would say.  When Eleanor was still in my belly, one of our dear friends gave us the smallest Clint Dempsey jersey she could find from the 2014 World Cup uniform.  We knew our child was going to grow up on the soccer field – both playing and watching her parents play together.IMG_1560We took her to her first game (a local high school match) when she was 4 months old and had a hotel booked in Tallahassee to see the FSU women play Boston College on November 1. During one of our after dinner walks just before the accident, we talked about taking Eleanor the following year up to Montreal and see their professional men’s team play.  And of course I was already looking up future Women’s World Cup venues – she’d be five when it reconvened in France in 2019.

We planned to resume playing last fall and we would follow the construct of one of our former teammates and her husband: bring the baby to the games and hubby and wife sub out for each other, taking turns holding the baby.

Eleanor would know her mommy and daddy weren’t just her parents, or just husband and wife, they were teammates – in every sense of the word.IMG_0619IMG_0618 IMG_0629343