I have been an avid (okay, fine… rabid) NFL fan for almost 20 years. And while I try to understand the rules and actually follow the game, I really just like to scream and yell at the TV. It makes me happy. (Except when my team is losing then it’s a very, very bad thing, but I digress.) Niko and Rocky were very young when I found my love (and subsequent hate) of football. In an attempt to keep from scaring the hell out of them (and – I won’t lie – as a superstitious gesture), I would offer them treats for scores or really good plays. Before long, Niko and Rocky knew the difference between my hoots, hollers, screams, and yells and would either come running to reap the reward or go running to hide from the wrath. Or maybe they were running from the jerseys that I would occasionally make them wear. Whatever.
Niko eventually got to the point where he napped after our “pre-game warmup” (he knew I’d come find him to give his treat), but on game day, Rocky would always stay close by usually keeping an eye on the treats I had sitting out waiting for the next score or good defensive play. This football ritual with my boys was something I looked forward to every year. Every game day, there would be hoots and hollers and a round of pre-game high fives and good luck treats. It was just fun. It was something that I honestly enjoyed.
When Niko died, Rocky and I carried on the game day tradition as best we could, but our hearts just weren’t into it. Don’t get me wrong, Rocky would still take his treat, but he wouldn’t dance around, bark, and high five like he did before. We weren’t the team we once were.
And then came Jacques. The first football game we watched with Jacques… the poor guy. He just didn’t know what to think. I would jump up screaming and yelling like an insane person (who doesn’t love a good defensive play??!) causing him to bark incessantly and do NASCAR laps. He would stop occasionally to look at me as if to say, “Is it okay now??” Every clap, every jump up off the couch, every minor hoot from me would elicit a barking frenzy from Jacques. (Rocky, however, still only responded to the appropriate “touchdown” yell, the “interception” scream, or the “make that stupid quarterback eat dirt” holler.) I’ll admit – Jacques’ rookie season was rough, but you could tell by the end of the season that the dim little light bulb over his head was starting to go off. You could almost hear the “zzzit, zzziiit, zit” of it. My flailing and yelling would still elicit incessant barking on his part, but at least he would come to where the treats were and look at them then look expectantly at me as if he was starting to make the connection.
We’re entering our second season, and I have to give the boy credit. He didn’t forget anything during the offseason. In fact, it seems as though everything he learned during his rookie season has really sunk in. He still barks like crazy, but usually only during touchdown celebrations (and that’s TOTALLY appropriate!). He hasn’t picked up on the subtle nuances of my yells, but if he’s not in the room and hears me yell at the TV, he’ll come tearing through the house to get to me then plants himself in front of me waiting for his treat. Rocky has taken to parking himself by the box of treats. In fact, last week he tried to actually eat out of the box. I looked down and his head was shoved in the box. Funny boy!
Game day still feels a little different. There’s still a hint of sadness to it for me because I miss Niko so much, but Jacques is definitely doing his part to be a team player. He’s even got the pre-game barking and high fiving down! With every game he’s learning the ropes and with every game I’m learning that having this new furry teammate is a wonderful thing. So, yes. Yes, we are ready for some football!!