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Confessions of a Football Daughter

Kerry Madden-Lunsford is the author of "Offsides" (Morrow, 1996). She is the daughter of former college and professional football coach Joe Madden and no relation to John Madden

I won’t be watching the Super Bowl this year, again. I think the only time I’ve ever watched the Super Bowl was in 1983 when it was televised for the first time in England where I was an exchange student. I was the one who explained the game to my British friends as we gathered around the telly at midnight.

My mother once said, “As the wife of a football coach, I was of the mindset that if a man got home from work at 5, he surely must not be working too hard.”

And this was true. We of the football world viewed bankers and other commoners as “slackers,” since they got home from work by dinner time. A real coach got home at midnight and was back in the stadium by 5 a.m. if he had true dedication. My childhood consisted of moving every few years, hanging out in stadiums and having hulking recruits over for suppers of ribs in hopes of convincing them to sign four-year contracts.

My father got hired and fired a lot, usually en masse with entire coaching staffs. After one football season, the head coach of Detroit called up on Christmas Eve and said, “Your dad there?” I said, “No, he’s Christmas shopping with my mother.” (Football coaches typically shop on Christmas Eve if they don’t have a bowl game or playoffs to prepare for.) He replied, “Well, tell him he’s been fired,” and hung up.

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Dad would usually get a new coaching job by January and be gone immediately, returning only once to move us to the next football town. My father’s attitude toward moving was, “Get your ass in the car.” And so we were off to the next football horizon, usually arriving by Picture Day, when all the families got dressed up in team colors and went to the stadium to have the family portrait taken.

In the world of football, kids you’ve barely met come up to you and sneer, “God, your dad’s team sucks,” or if the team is doing well, they sidle up to ask, “Wanna spend the night at my house? So you think your dad could get my family free tickets?”

As a child, I attended (not necessarily watched) three football games a weekend, including both brothers’ and my father’s, plus my sister was a cheerleader. As an adult, I haven’t seen an entire football game since 1989. Talk about liberation. Freedom from waiting outside locker rooms; freedom to do whatever you want on a Saturday and not feel guilty. Now, I do hear the games when I visit my parents, but merely as background noise, not anything to be emotionally invested in for hours on end in an icy stadium. And I did watch the ads in last year’s Super Bowl, only because a friend made his acting debut in a beer commercial.

Before retiring, my father coached football for 30 years, and when you’re in it, you don’t think about it. You simply take it for granted that if your team loses on Saturday, you have to go into a period of mourning until Sunday night. One Thanksgiving, when my father was coaching special teams for Detroit, they went into overtime, and immediately the other team made a 92-yard kickoff return against his players. We didn’t have Thanksgiving that year until Sunday.

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There is an upside. My father was very goal-oriented. He used to sit us down and inquire, “So, what are your goals, kids?” We were always writing down our goals and plans for the future. So what are my plans for this year’s Super Bowl? I had thought about taking in a movie, maybe even a double feature. Now it seems that I’m going to be hyping my new novel.

I sometimes wonder if I should expose my two children to football. Once, when Notre Dame was playing on TV, my little boy asked my father, “You mean all those guys are a bunch of Quasimodos and they’re smashing each other with their hunchbacks?” My father said, “What the hell is he talking about? Hasn’t he ever seen a football game before?” I had to smile. So for all you sports widows and orphans, remember this: There is life after football. There are museums and libraries to visit. Films to watch. Mountains to climb. Yes, indeed, there is life after football. And it is good!


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