Meredith Carroll: Meredith Pro Tem
No girl ever wants to choose between her husband and her father. (And really, no girl ever has to, unless she’s spending the summer secretly doing the merengue with Patrick Swayze while her family vacations at a Jewish resort in the Catskills).
But the time has come for me pick a side, although thankfully for just 24 hours. On New Year’s Day, my husband’s favorite college football team will play my dad’s in the Capital One Bowl.
Rick and Dad hold many of the same things near and dear to their heart, including me, of course, but especially college football. Both my husband and dad bleed purple and gold (LSU) and blue and white (Penn State) respectively, passionately and unapologetically.
One of Dad’s greatest disappointments in life is that that neither my sister nor I went to a college with a football team and therefore didn’t experience the same euphoria on Saturdays that he did when he was a student at Penn State. (He was also disappointed that neither one of us was a boy, but had far less control over that.) Rick would also like me to experience joy – televised LSU games – on Saturdays (although I’ll never understand why he’s not happier that I most enjoy not watching games with him and instead enjoy watching movies without him during that time).
Penn State’s head coach of 43 years, Joe Paterno, is not just the greatest college football coach of all time, but ranks with Edward R. Murrow, Ted Williams and Winston Churchill as one of the greatest Americans of all time (never mind the tiny discrepancy with Churchill’s citizenship), according to Dad.
LSU’s football coach always earns Rick’s undying loyalty and esteem, until which time the team (a) fails to win a national championship (or a shot at the title), (b) fails to clinch an SEC championship (or a shot at the title), (c) loses at any point in any game during any part of the season, or (d) the coach doesn’t wear his hat convincingly at any point in any game during any part of the season.
For both Dad and Rick, the love for their teams is deeply rooted in their early days. Pennsylvania is part of Dad’s DNA. No one will ever convince him that the gas is cheaper, the Tastykakes are fresher and the inclines on the walk to and from elementary school are steeper and icier than they are in Pennsylvania – particularly in the neighborhood where he was born in Scranton. Penn State can do no wrong by osmosis.
Even though he wasn’t born there and hasn’t lived there in 15 years, Louisiana is the home in Rick’s heart (and stomach). With an NFL team that didn’t start winning until just a few minutes ago (except, uh, for the past two Sundays), he started worshipping LSU football as a little kid along with the rest of the state. To him, the sound of 92,400 fans chanting “Geaux Tigers” in Death Valley along with the taste of seafood gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish etouffee or anything smothered with Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning all sound, taste and feel like hot, sticky Indian summers and his childhood.
At home I alternate between wearing a Penn State sweatshirt Dad got me ages ago and a Tabasco sweatshirt Rick got me when we visited Avery Island, La., last spring. Whichever I’ve worn over the last few weeks has been a sign of my allegiance, according to Rick, with a raised eyebrow (not an indication of whichever happens to be clean, which I’ve argued instead). When I didn’t immediately put the LSU barrette in our daughter’s hair that my mother-in-law brought when she visited last week, Rick raised the other eyebrow.
Rick says he doesn’t really expect me to pick a side, though. In fact, I think part of him secretly wants me to cheer for Penn State because he’s imagining he’d want our daughter to side with LSU some day if her future husband’s team is a competitor.
My dad wants me to root for Penn State, too, I think. Soon after Rick and I were married in 2006, I was on the phone with Dad when Rick’s number popped up on the caller ID.
“Who’s on the other line?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s just Rick. I’ll call him back,” I said.
I could hear the smile in his voice as our conversation continued.
Besides the issue of loyalty, it’s inconceivable to Dad why anyone would root against Penn State, the team of record. Impossible as it may be, I want them both (Dad and Rick) to win, although Rick also has the New Orleans Saints going for him this season, and it sure would be nice to see Joe Pa go big before the boosters make him go to a home.
Regardless, look for me at the movie theatre on Friday at game time. I’ll be the one wearing neither navy, white, purple nor gold and holding an extra large bag of popcorn and a ticket to a double feature.
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