Pro football is pretty important to my 13-year-old daughter and me.
Our Sundays are spent watching and dissecting every game we can watch. Our discussions often turn to which players are best at their positions.
Like many of her generation, she likes to talk about goats. Eventually I figured out that was short for greatest of all time. It can be funny when her sense of football history goes back to Cam Newton dabbing in Super Bowl 50 all the way back in 2016. (To be fair, she does have some memories of Seattle beating Denver in 2014.)
With no football on TV last weekend, we decided it was time for a road trip to the mecca of pro football, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. If she was looking for goats, there was a whole farm of them there.
I’d been to the hall of fame perhaps 20 years ago. It was an enjoyable experience, seeing the memorabilia and the busts of the inductees, but I didn’t have any strong urge to return. Once we saw our middle daughter’s passion for the game, it seemed like a natural place to go.
I did worry she’d get bored, as walking through a museum isn’t quite a football game. That fear dissipated when we spent 10 minutes walking through our first exhibit, on football cards, as she painstakingly looked over the photos and statistics from over the years.
As she pointed at different ones, she asked if I remembered them. I had a similar conversation that I have when people realize I live in Putnam County: It doesn’t mean I know everyone there. Yet, more often than not, yes, I suppose I do remember so-and-so.
When we got to the more modern cards, that’s when I had a little more insight for her. I told her about seeing Brett Favre play for the Packers at Jacksonville on Monday Night Football, a man who threw the hardest, fastest passes I’d ever seen before or since. I reminisced about how elusive Detroit’s Barry Sanders was, practically willing his team to the playoffs every year when there wasn’t much around him.
In some ways, she’s finally learning to appreciate my decade working as a sports writer, watching games in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Washington as my career moved me around a bit.
We spent plenty of time checking out everything about our shared favorite team, the Chicago Bears. She has a better understanding of their pre-Super Bowl dominance after learning more about the early years of the league. She seemed as in awe of Walter Payton’s white Pony shoes on display as I was, and she grinned widely when I took her picture with a full-sized painting of “Sweetness” himself.
It wasn’t just me reminiscing. In an area devoted to records in the hall of fame, many of them belong to people still playing today. With the Super Bowl on tap Sunday night, literally some of them are playing today. She spoke about watching Derrick Henry abusing linebackers and defensive backs when he set the single-season rushing record. She reminisced about the magical 269-yard receiving night Tyreek Hill had for Kansas City against Tampa Bay just a few months ago.
We shared the traits we respect in a player. We bonded over our love of a sometimes violent, sometimes beautiful game with complicated rules. But most of all, we shared a day together I won’t soon forget, and I suspect she won’t either.