Opinion

FOOTBALL UNDER SNOW

For Nicolás.

MISSOULA, Montana – I have never been colder than one night during an American football game at the University of Montana’s stadium.

The game had just started when a fierce snowstorm hit. It had not been in the forecast. Within a few minutes the entire field was covered in white. It was impossible to see the lines and numbers. The field maintenance crew fought to clear the snow from the end zones. But it was useless. Within a few seconds, everything was covered in white again.

Under normal circumstances, when it snows so much the world is paralyzed. That is, let’s say, what happens everywhere when you can’t see very well and it’s dangerous to walk on the ice. But not in Montana, and much less during a Grizzlies football game. Not one of the nearly 25,000 fans jamming Washington-Grizzly stadium left the seats. It was as though the snow had made them rebel against nature. They were defiant. We’re here, and we’re not moving.

My cell phone showed forecasts of below-freezing temperatures but not snow. Even so, I put on all the layers possible, until my coat zipper was almost bursting. It was useless. While I shivered and sat on a frozen metal plank, my companions appeared to enjoy the frozen spectacle. And then I noticed my mistake. My jeans were soaked with the melted snow. Only a Mexican who lives in Miami would have thought to dress like that in Montana in early winter. Days later, a horrible flu put me in bed for a week.

On the field, players wearing short sleeves and pants seemed immune to the cold. They hit each other, and when they fell they kicked up clouds of snow as though they were creating special effects. I am sure the ball had turned into a rock. But they threw and kicked it like it was made out of chewing gum.

There is, without a doubt, something theatrical about the most popular sport in the United States. It’s not just about being strong and aggressive, but showing it to the other team. In that context, to be cold – and show it – would be a sign of weakness and perhaps a lack of focus. It’s true that there are heaters along the sidelines, but the streams of hot air do not reach everywhere on the field. The players have to beat the other team, and the cold.

We were under one of the worst snowstorms to hit the Northwest, but the game continued. The idea is that nothing stops an American football game. The fans screamed and supported their team with the same overflowing enthusiasm that I saw in a Rome soccer stadium or a World Cup match – like it was the end of the world. And, to make it clear that it was all about winning, a cannon fired off a shot every time the local team scored. Long Live Tinnitus!

Snow? What snow?

My son Nicolás is one of the kickers on the University of Montana’s football squad. And this has been a great season for the team. They won the Big Sky Conference and will play for the FCS National Championship in Frisco, Texas, on January 7th against South Dakota State. Of course, I’ll be there.

Right now Nico is at his best, kicking the ball between two yellow goal posts from incredible angles, and sometimes with snow and wind. I follow him like fanatics of another type of football follow Messi. Wherever he goes. First in New Jersey, then in California and now in Montana. I am his fan. I have made that eight or nine hour flight from Miami to Missoula – longer than a flight to Europe – as if it was a happy pilgrimage.

Even as a child Nico had a strong right leg. His fellow soccer players in grammar school turned their backs whenever he cleared the ball, and two or three had the air knocked out of them when hit on the stomach. On weekends I was his goalkeeper, and we spent countless summers playing in any park that had a goal with a net. I thought, I never managed to play soccer like Pelé or Enrique Borja, but Nico will. But those are Mexican dreams. My dreams.

Nico’s dreams – he lost the last three letters of his name on the field – were in English, with his friends, in a sport he chose and in the country where he was born. One day, when I wasn’t paying attention, someone gave my son a football, and his life changed forever. He found his passion and his purpose, different from those of his father and his sister Paola. He’s been training and studying for five years (Universities wisely don’t let them play unless they sign up for classes).

When the snow-covered game ended in Missoula – they won – I went down to the field and hugged him. He was smiling, his arms bare and wearing a tight nylon jersey with the number 83. I wore a coat, sweater, shirt, hat, gloves, scarf and a thick blanket I had purchased, and yet I was white as bone after three hours outdoor on the coldest night of my life. I congratulated him on his field goals and knew that life had been good to us. We said goodbye with another hug, long and heartfelt. A father-son ritual. He had to go back to his team.

There was no Uber, no taxis. It was almost midnight when I walked into my hotel. Another mistake. Not that it was far. It usually takes about 20 minutes. But the snow had turned the ground into an unending skating rink. I watched other walkers fall in front of me. I did not want to wind up in an ambulance, with a broken leg. So I quickly learned the penguin walk, shuffle-shuffle, and with snow up to my ears eventually made it to the hotel.

I’ll never be this cold again, I promised myself. It was like spending three hours in a refrigerator. But soon, now thawed out and full of enthusiasm for Nico’s victory, I called him and asked: “When’s the next game?”

By Jorge Ramos Ávalos

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”

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