Tales from a Sports-Illiterate Mom of Superfans: A Story of Survival

Brenda Donoghue

“So, who’s the orange team?” A sigh, flash of annoyance and then one word, “Broncos.” Eddie’s eyes never even left the screen. I’d been dismissed.

It was another failed attempt to connect with my oldest son over football. This kind of scene plays out in a constant loop with my two sons throughout the rhythm of our days.

Within the dynamics of a family, we all play a role, and, apparently, I’m the clueless mom. When it comes to being a sports fan, I’m not in their league. I live in a frat house, a locker room, a fan’s haven. All things sports provide the background music to our day.

I envision myself talking shop with my boys, and reveling in the glory of the latest ballgames. But it seems that no matter how hard I try to meet my expectations, no matter how hard I attempt to gain enough knowledge to be considered a credible fan, I cannot seem to blossom into the mother I aspire to be.

I fumble with baseline sports plays and terminology, and stumble over the names of beloved players. I’m never current on current events. I’m a bonafide buzzkill.

Though, I suppose I’m my own worst enemy.

Asking what team the Patriots are playing while watching the big game -- after a week’s build up of playoff hype -- never goes over well. Nor does commenting on the opposing team’s snazzy uniforms. Or using old school sayings to discuss the lopsided score of a game.

“Wow! We are really cleaning that other team’s clock,” I excitedly told Eddie and Billy as I settled onto the couch, ready to connect with them over the weekend’s big basketball game.

“Don’t say that. It’s weird.” Their only reply. As their shoulders visibly deflated, they barely suppressed disgusted sighs.

But at least these are the things that occur within the private confines of our own home.

My lack of knowledge never kept us from pursuing our shared love of sports adventures; we’ve made it a priority to visit as many sports venues as possible. But imagine their chagrin when I take my ignorance on the road.

My most disgraceful play is the public embarrassment they evidently suffer at my hands on these road trips… like when I yelled, “Wow, Jackie Robinson sure has played on a lot of teams!” at a popular exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame. His retired jersey number had been prominently displayed within each team’s roster.

An uncomfortable hush fell over our immediate surroundings, as Eddie’s eyes jumped from his head. He looked ready to lurch across the room, as if to steal the words from the air before they reached everyone’s ears. If it were possible to drop dead of embarrassment right there on that floor, he would have done just that.

Both boys immediately dragged me from the exhibit, ushering us to a more private area so they could insulate themselves from further irrevocable humiliation. I later learned from my traumatized children that Robinson did not play for all of those teams, but, rather, his jersey number was universally retired and featured with each team’s roster to specially honor him. Their explanation made a lot more sense.

Don’t feel too bad for them, though. They’ve made it their mission to get me back. They torture me. Making me the butt of their jokes, they surreptitiously provide tidbits of sports misinformation in the hopes that I’ll be caught looking like a fool when I work it into adult conversation.

“Did you talk to anyone at work about (former Celtics player) Brian Scalabrine making the Basketball Hall of Fame?” The furtive glance, the only tip off to their prank. It turns out Scalabrine is nowhere close to Hall of Fame caliber, something apparently everyone else except for me knows. This has become a favorite and frequent stunt.

Overall though, they are usually somewhat patient and kind. They’ve assumed the role of teacher, committing to their mission with zealous passion. They follow me around the house rattling off their knowledge like seasoned sports journalists. Pop quizzes and lengthy lessons fill most of our days.

I love being their student, and even the victim of their occasional pranks. And there are few memories I adore more than going on our sports vacation adventures. Watching ESPN documentaries as my kids explain the complex backstories will always hold a special place in my heart.

In fact, I’ve recently had an epiphany: my kids feel the same. They don’t want a fabricated image of who a mom of sports fans should be. They just want me, in all my annoying and embarrassing glory.

Our connection is uniquely ours and, in the end, that’s all they crave. We’ve chartered our own course, and created our very own special bond - with scores of cherished memories to prove it.

The thing about parenting is that it’s easy to expend enormous amounts of misguided energy struggling to conform to ill-fitting molds. We compare and critique, convinced on some subconscious level that there is a better version of what we should give, and who we should be. It’s too easy to miss what’s been right in front of us all along.

For awhile I did just that. Angst over failing to resurrect the superfan of my youth clouded my vision. I almost missed the chance to revel in the quirky sports bond my boys and I already share, and to marvel at our own unique collection of magical moments. I almost missed the chance to cherish memories as they unfold.

But not anymore. The bond we’ve forged over our sports mishaps - while different than I had envisioned - is still pretty awesome. And so, I will embrace it.

My boys? They can feign annoyance and disgust all they want. I know that, deep down, they love it too. And if I’m wrong? Well, they’ll survive.