It was the grandfather who first predicted the impending mess.
"That's not AstroTurf," he said. "There's going to be mud." My parents and I had just pulled up for the game at a football field across town, where my son would be the starting center. By then it had been raining all night and all morning, and although the field looked green, something dark oozed beneath the surface.
My parents brought towels to dry the bleachers, cushions to sit on, big garbage bags to keep the cushions dry, and umbrellas. The three of us would stay reasonably dry if not warm and cozy, but the kids on the field?
"Memorize the players some other way," said the announcer as he started the play by play. "In a couple of minutes you won't be able to see the numbers." There was our 67, the first out of the huddle, all spiffy in his white and red uniform. He leaned forward, grabbed the ball and snapped it to the player behind him.
"Good snap," my dad said. The team gained a few yards and as they regrouped I turned to chat with my parents. And when I looked back a few minutes later, the white and red uniforms had been replaced by something more in the espresso bean family.
"It's a mud bowl," my mother said. As the rain fell, the grass gave way to the earth underneath. The usual grunts of body blocks were replaced by the slurpy sound of mud wrestling. Players leaned in for tackles and were felled by a puddle; wide receivers reached for passes and were frozen, their shoes sucked into the pie.
"The ball has to be slippery," I said, and just then, our 67 rolled the snap. He would later tell us there was an "inch of goo" between him and the laces.
By halftime, the field was a green coconut cookie with a melty chocolate center. They were playing the game on a gigantic Slip `n Slide. The announcer was right: we were having trouble finding our kid in the gaggle. Sixty-seven stood for the number of times that jersey would have to be washed to get it clean.
Walking on the sidelines to get some photos, I stepped out of my right shoe; I pulled it from the mud with a big kissing sound. The mud was crawling up the hems of my stretchy yoga pants, causing them to grow. By the time I returned to the bleachers, I was shuffling like a mermaid, the hems of my pants trailing behind me.
The photos were worth it. The boys looked like emerging coal miners, filthy but happy. Our team won in a shutout, and I'm sure the opponents' locker room didn't fare so well, either. Professionals came and took the uniforms for cleaning, but my son brought home a few towels that will never be the same.
"What a mess," the grandfather said over dinner that night.
"Yeah," said our 67, now freshly scrubbed and tired and contented. "That was the most fun we've ever had out there."
Beth Dolinar is a former Riverside resident and Pittsburgh television reporter who is staying at home to raise her two children. She can be reached at cootieJ@aol.com.