Author’s Note: I’ve made a list of 100+ events, places and experiences that happily unite people. I’m taking a tour to see and experience as many of them as possible, and also meet up with Society members and friends. Of course, I’ll be sharing these #HappinessUnites moments with you. Find out more of the why’s of the #HappinessUnites Tour in my blog: 3 Reasons I’m Hittin’ the Road. Or find out where my #HappinessUnites Tour has taken me so far — and what I’ve had time to write about. If you want to meet up with me, check out my #HappinessUnites Tour schedule.
My Ever-Changing Relationship With Football
Depending on the time of my life, my relationship with football varies from almost complete obliviousness to season ticket-holder. Growing up, the only thing I remember about football was that when the Dallas Cowboys played and my dad was at home (he was a fireman so sometimes he’d work on game days), you had to keep quiet so he could watch the game. He was happier when the Cowboys won, so the score mattered. Dallas needed the biggest one.
When I was in junior high and high school, I attended the football games because I was in the pep squad and band. However, I would have been equally happy not attending the games. Maybe by that point, my own lack of athleticism had waned my interest in sports, or with my wallflower social status, even football wasn’t a bridge to feeling like I belonged. Of course, I was happy when we won — even wallflowers have school pride and spirit. I don’t even think my college had a football team, or if it did, it didn’t make much of an impact on the business school.
Florida & Football — Things Changed
I didn’t really start to value football until I moved to West Palm Beach in the fall of 1989. By the spring of 1990, I was so homesick I thought moving had been the worst decision of my life, or at least my life to that point. The Palm Beach Post had a story featuring Texas Connection, a new club for homesick Texans now living in Palm Beach County.
I went to the very next meeting and found a plethora of friends with familiar twangs, ya’lls and yearning for real Tex-Mex food. That fall, a group of mostly Texas Connection singles watched the Dallas Cowboys when they played on local TV (yes, it was the pre NFL channel days). The games were exciting because those were the winning heyday years of the Cowboys. This was the first time I started to understand how a football team unites virtual strangers.
Football: A Game That Unites People
At some point after the Cowboys winning years ended and I’d returned to Texas, I’d watch the occasional game with my dad or friends, but that was it. My mailman once told me on Mondays, after Dallas lost, more people called in sick that day. I never knew if he was joking. However, after my mom passed away, I started watching games to give me something to talk about with my dad, and in hindsight, my brother, too. Sometimes better relationships require one of the people involved to expand their interest, so I did.
One year, I even bought Cowboys season tickets at their old stadium because my brother did. I thought it’d be something we could do together, but separate. Our tickets were close to each other, but in different places, and we took different guests. That year the Cowboys lost more games at home than on the road, so going to the games wasn’t fun for me.
I decided my future football experiences would be happiest in front of my TV, even if that mean flipping channels for my happiness and catching the after game recap.
The last year my dad was here, I tried to watch as many games with him as possible, even though it wasn’t a winning season.
The one thing I always understood about football is that, even if you know very little about the plays, rules and stats, it’s a game that unites people. It unites people for or against a team. It unites players and parents starting with peewee football and doesn’t stop there. The Super Bowl is the home sports watching social event of the year because it’s filled with the game, food, entertainment, commercials, family, friends and fun.
Dallas Cowboys Training Camp – Oxnard, CA
When I did my #HappinessUnites Tour list of events that unite people, football was one of the first things on it. Since I was going to the Los Angeles area in July, I thought, “Why not go to the Cowboys Training Camp in Oxnard, CA?”
Okay, to be completely transparent, I thought training camp gave me the best shot at getting a selfie with a player, or even better, Jerry Jones, with my big #HappinessUnites sign. Or that I could run into local reporters who would find my tour interesting and might even help me get that selfie.
After driving to Oxnard from LAX, I stopped at Staples to get a poster board so I could make a quick #HappinessUnites sign — I brought the cut-outs to glue on it. I met Summer, who works there – she liked my T-shirt. She posed with me for my first California #HappinessUnites Tour selfie. Then I made my way to the training camp, made my sign, changed shoes from my stylish sandals to more practical shoes for walking on the unexpected dirt and mulch, then headed into camp.
As I was walking in, I met a Cowboys fan who moved to Cali as a kid, but was originally from the Texas panhandle. This was his first time at training camp, but he said he was going to take several vacation days to come back a few more times.
Once I walked through the hoopla booths to get to the stadium, the practice had already started. I made my way to the top of the bleachers so I could survey the field and was surprised at how many people were there. I initially sat by three young men who’d come to training camp from Arizona. They were little encyclopedias that knew every stat on every player and their recruitment story. They were kind enough to take a pic of me with my newly minted sign.
The defense was practicing in front of the stands on my side. I guess I’d never really watched a football practice before, because it was mesmerizing. The players moved various pieces of heavy equipment like they were dollhouse furniture. The blocks don’t look as artful during the games as they did when they are individually executed. The fans were also excited about a very tall, new player named Taco Charlton. He knocked down one of the heavy props like they were a row of toothpicks – effortlessly. Watching the defense practice made me wonder if a football team should have been more of a consideration when picking my college.
After watching from the top of the stands for a bit, I realized if I had any hopes of a player selfie, I was going to have to pony up $20 to get the United membership so I could stand in the double fence line closest to the players. There was also a $300 club where you had more access to players and mystery tents, but that was a little pricey for my #HappinessUnites Tour budget.
Once I got my United membership, I walked over to the other side of the field so I could see the offense practice. I also met even more passionate fans who mostly lived in California. Many scheduled vacations around Cowboys training camp. They also had bags of things like footballs and shirts for the players to sign. I asked if they sold this stuff and they said no. Daniel, who seemed to have the most autographs, explained you needed to come to the camp a few days every year to get all of the autographs you wanted. He’d been doing this for several years and even had an autograph from Jerry Jones. I think he was still in the hunt for Dak’s signature.
Jerry Jones was in this big tower in the middle of the field. I was coming to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be getting the #HappinessUnites selfies with the players at this practice. It was going long, and they were still in the middle of the field. I asked my new friends to pose for pics, and Joslyn and Abraham even took the pledge with me.
As I was leaving, everyone on the field sang happy birthday to someone, and even though I didn’t get that coveted Cowboy selfie, I still reveled in the enthusiasm that occurs when football unites us.
Going to training camp may have even been more fun than attending a game, because everyone there was a Cowboys fan. Everyone was anticipating the upcoming season. There was also an excitement and enthusiasm that gets lost on game day because fans of the other team are at the same place, united in the hope your team loses. But then that’s what football does; It unites you with other fans, either for or against a team. Win or lose, I’m a part of #CowboysNation.
The lessons I learned from my Fifth #HappinessUnites Tour Stop:
- Training camp is the perfect place to immerse with your team’s fans, but arrive earlier than the scheduled practice time to mingle and participate in a little fan hoopla.
- You don’t have to understand all of the football rules, because someone’s always happy to explain a call you don’t understand.
- Even if you’re not a football fan, it’s part of our culture, so you can’t really ignore the sport. The next best thing is to have a little fun with it at the local, college or pro level.
I’d love to hear who your favorite #Football Team is! Have you ever watched your favorite team at training camp? Please leave a comment below! Such a great way to meet new friends who are fans of your favorite team!