Remember those ESPN ads that centered on what life would be like without sports? Well, I think about that quite a bit.

Michigan Football

Sports don’t seem to mean as much to me nowadays compared to when I was a kid, and it doesn’t really have to do with tragedies like Hurricane Katrina or the Sept. 11 attacks. Those things obviously put life into perspective, but, more than anything, sports have come to be a form of entertainment, not life and death. Basically, they are something to keep my mind off a term paper or an upcoming exam. I still like them a lot, but I won’t pout like a baby after a loss.

I think about this because it’s my mom’s birthday in a couple days, and I don’t really know what to get her. She doesn’t want anything, but maybe she doesn’t really need much either. She has sports and my dad.

To be honest, it’s not as if she likes sports very much. The only interest she has is to ask in a meek voice if the Michigan football team won – which hasn’t been the case too often lately. She always apologizes, like she had some impact on the outcome. Really, she just thinks it kills me to see them lose, and it does hurt. Sports aren’t really her bag, but I guarantee she appreciates their worth.

While growing up in the land of 10,000 lakes, sports were more than just a hobby for me. And thankfully, for my mom’s sake, I embraced them from the beginning. It kept her sane, and brought my dad and me together.

To me, that’s what sports are really about – father and son bonding over a game of catch. I was reminded of this when wide receiver Steve Breaston talked at Big Ten Media Day in August of his dad getting mad at him for falling in a river when he was young. I’m certain most everyone here fell, got hurt and scared their parents when they were young. So just because most us aren’t Division I athletes, we all have something in common – sports can bring a family together, even if we scare our folks. Lost in the confusion of class, partying, girls and everything else – sports are a great unifier.

In my rambunctious youth, I didn’t have much regard for anything but having fun and getting wild – kind of like your stereotypical frat boy. For example, after having surgery when I was 3 years old, the doctors told me to take it easy for a couple days. But within two hours, I was building a fort made of pillows and jumping from the top of them like the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Mary Bess could only watch in horror as she thought every stitch in me would pop out.

Nothing could keep me under control – except for my dad because he would join in on the fun. Most of my earliest memories deal with sports and my dad.

When I was five, we used to play baseball on our cul-de-sac. I would hit; he would pitch. I had aspirations of being like Kirby Puckett, and he would help me as much as possible.

One day, when I was just raking like a young Albert Pujols, I took a particularly violent swing. The line-drive shot headed right toward my dad’s crotch, and boom, he was on the ground. He spit out a couple obscenities, and I was really scared – figuring my young life was over. The wrath of a high-pitched swear word never terrified my chubby self so much. As I tried to sneak away without letting my frightened laughter be seen, my dad stopped me and said, “Just do it like that every time” while patting my head. He was cool, despite me trying to castrate him with a baseball.

Finally, as I got older, I calmed down, but sports still kept me from making my mom go crazy.

Coming from a Catholic family, we usually went to church on Sundays. But during baseball season from fifth grade to junior year of high school, my dad and I had an excuse not to go – we could go to the fields and play baseball.

Just like on the cul-de-sac, he tossed them, and I knocked them as best I could. Once other players started throwing curveballs, my dad would too. He wasn’t Sandy Koufax or Barry Zito, but he did the best he could – even if he hit me in the head quite a few times when the ball got away from him.

My mom couldn’t complain too much, because all the sports kept us happy and made me a better student. She came to all my games, paid for the registration, encouraged me when things didn’t always go well and took care of me when I hurt my knee badly.

So what’s the point? Well, Michigan’s football season hasn’t gone well so far – no one denies that. But it’s just one season, and hopefully, we can all remember where we would be without sports and appreciate those who helped us love them. I know I probably wouldn’t be getting a degree from Michigan without them, and my mom would probably hate me.

Happy Birthday Mom.


Matt Venegoni swears he’s not a mama’s boy. He can be reached at mvgoni@umich.edu


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