Poems Inspired by Football

Did you know that Super Bowl Monday—the day following the N.F.L.’s championship game—is the most called-in sick day in the United States? Talk about the tail (football) wagging the dog (country)!

As for those going to work, they will no doubt burn some water-cooler time discussing the merits of Super Bowl commercials, even to the point of grading them. So get your red pens out, fans, and see if you agree with the Chicago Tribune‘s writer.

As for me, football is mostly a reminder of my youth. And apparently I’m not alone. Here are three football-inspired poems, the last by me, and the first by people more famous than me (for me it’s 4th and 20 with a minute on the clock—but hope, and apparently Tom Brady, are eternal!):


Football Dreams
by Jacqueline Woodson

No one was faster
than my father on the football field.
No one could keep him
from crossing the line. Then
touching down again.
Coaches were watching the way he moved,
his easy stride, his long arms reaching
up, snatching the ball from its soft pockets
of air.

My father dreamed football dreams,
and woke up to a scholarship
at Ohio State University.
Grown now
living the big-city life
in Columbus
just sixty miles
from Nelsonville
and from there
Interstate 70 could get you
on your way west to Chicago
Interstate 77 could take you south
but my father said
no colored Buckeye in his right mind
would ever want to go there.

From Columbus, my father said,
you could go just about


First Practice
by Gary Gildner

After the doctor checked to see
we weren’t ruptured,
the man with the short cigar took us
under the grade school,
where we went in case of attack
or storm, and said
he was Clifford Hill, he was
a man who believed dogs
ate dogs, he had once killed
for his country, and if
there were any girls present
for them to leave now.
No one
left. OK, he said, he said I take
that to mean you are hungry
men who hate to lose as much
as I do. OK. Then
he made two lines of us
facing each other,
and across the way, he said,
is the man you hate most
in the world,
and if we are to win
that title I want to see how.
But I don’t want to see
any marks, when you’re dressed,
he said. He said, Now.


And finally, my own entry, from my most recent book Lost Sherpa of Happiness:

Trip, Memory
Ken Craft

It starts with the sound of a whistle.
The smell of cigar smoke
riding bareback on October air.
The cheerleaders’ “We got the T-E-AYY-M,”
the dry prayer of their pom-poms.
Me and the boys, uniformly cool—brave
in our home whites and eye black,
our grass-scarred helmets,
our nonfunctional mouthguards,
throwing Hail Mary’s and dropping f-bombs,
our bodies bolting
and dangerous with weedy want.

That’s all it takes—a somewhere referee’s
somehow whistle. I’m 13 again.
I haven’t even begun to think about thinking.
The smell of tobacco is a promise,
nothing foreboding.
And the sight of fallen, windblown leaves
rolling toward my cleats is just that
because my veins breathe and bulge as Coach yells
and my blood hits hard to feel the bruise of pleasure
and there’s no such thing as symbolism
because death is only something cowboys
and Indians do on black and white TV.


NOTE: Want to read a fourth football-themed poem? Jump ahead to this post I wrote later  which includes a football poem by Al Ortolani.