A shadow floats across my face. I stop fumbling with my front door keys to look up at the green-and-gold flag fluttering in the soft breeze. Most days I forget it’s here. This Green Bay Packers flag has been flying from our front porch for six years—as long as my son Tim has been the Packers’ punter. A stray tear plops onto the welcome mat before I can catch it with my already damp and wadded-up Kleenex. Today, on August 30, 2016, only two hours ago, I found out that Tim had been cut from the team. I reach for the flag, compelled to take it down—after all, my son isn’t a Packer anymore. But I pull my hand away, almost afraid to touch it, as if my memories might fade with its removal, trapped inside the fabric’s folds, tossed into a box and eventually forgotten. More tears leave wet spots on the porch, on my clothes. Not even trying to dab my eyes now, I realize it’s not just Tim I’m thinking of, worried for. I’m no longer an NFL mom.
Leaving the flag in place, I unlock the door, slump into a chair and close my eyes. I desperately want to call Tim, hear his voice and know he’s okay, but my son’s the pondering type and he’ll want some space. He’s in Green Bay, his family in Lexington, Kentucky. He and Amanda, his wife, need the phone time to sort this out without my questions and angst. There are Tim’s teammates, too, who he’ll want to be around, unload with and say good-bye to. Still I can’t resist picking up my phone, but before tapping his number I whisper a prayer instead. “Why, God? Why now? Do you have something better for Tim? I have to be honest with you, Lord, I don’t know how you’re going to pull this one off. A football season without Tim in Packers’ colors, really? He’ll be lost. I’ll miss it. Take care of him, God. And me too, please.”
Six years ago, on a Saturday morning, I teared up in the middle of Walmart after reading Tim's long-awaited text, announcing, “I made the final roster!” I ignored the text alert today in favor of finishing up at work—I was tired and wanted to leave for home. But the second alert was too annoying to ignore, so I snatched up my phone. The message was from Amanda. Her words, “Tim just got cut,” grabbed me by the throat. Only yesterday, the Packers’ other punter, a rookie who competed with Tim in training camp, was released. That left one punter on the roster—Tim. Later in the day, during a press conference, head coach Mike McCarthy said, “Tim Masthay is in the driver’s seat. . . Tim we have great history with here, and he’ll continue to work and get better.”
What happened? Tim held most of the Packers’ punting records. There was no other punter in camp. Who out there is a better punter? Tim had a goal to play out his current contract—just one more year, the 2016 season. Is it about money? Is Tim’s salary too high? NFL salary caps and player contracts are so convoluted. From the first day Tim stepped out onto a professional football field until now, he cautioned our family about the day-to-day performance pressure and the fickle nature of an NFL job. Tim said only yesterday in his locker room interview—right after Coach’s interview—“One, I don’t feel like I’ve won anything yet . . . there’s not even the slightest bit of relief. There’s no relief or take a deep breath or anything like that.” Even after this and six years of Tim’s warnings, I wasn’t prepared for his release, so this evening right there in the middle of my office, struggling to absorb Amanda’s message, tears didn’t just well up like when Tim first won his job—there were full-out sobs.
At home now, staring out our living-room window while the sun slowly sinks, my mind floods with memories. Like the Sunday afternoon when my granddaughter Emy, then two, sat in my lap pointing at the green-and-gold men warming up on Green Bay’s Lambeau Field yelling, “Daddy, Daddy!”
The flurry of game-day text messages and phone calls that kept our family connected through every one of Tim’s punts and his teammates’ plays even though we lived far apart. Wandering through strange cities and massive stadiums first to find our nosebleed seats—reserved for opponents’ families—then to search for Tim, post-game, so we could hug him in victory or defeat.
Christmas night, 2011 inside biting-cold Lambeau Field, our family all together—bundled stiff and huddled tight—cheered the Packers to victory over the Chicago Bears. No singing, lights, meals, church services, festivities or gifts could outdo the peace that swept over me that Christmas at a freezing football game in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The frightening crush of people leaving Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, January 2011, and feeling grateful that Ted, like his brother Tim, was tall and red-headed, so I didn’t lose sight of him in the raucous sea of Eagles fans. It was the Packers’ first playoff win, the post-season of Tim’s rookie year. The potential stampede seemed so worth it after we were safely tucked in our car and on our way home making plans for a trip to Atlanta for the next playoff game.
My family’s traditional journey to St. Paul, Minnesota, for the Vikings vs. Packers rivalry game was not just for a football game—it was a good reason for a family reunion. December 2012, our largest gathering, is a standout memory. My brothers and sisters, our spouses, some of the eighteen children we had among us and two grandchildren traveled from six different states for the game and family celebration. The Packers lost that year, but the laughter and chaos of being together overshadowed the defeat. My siblings, their husbands and wives, my husband Mark and I haven’t all been in the same place since that snow-covered day in Minnesota.
Then there was the game during the 2013 season, when my two brothers drove from the Twin Cities to join Amanda, Mark and me in Green Bay. The sweetness still lingers whenever I look at the photo of us with Tim that day in the locker room. Don Hutson, NFL and Packers Hall of Fame inductee, had been my father’s all-time favorite player as a young boy growing up in Wisconsin. We asked someone to snap a picture of us next to a display of Hutson’s retired number fourteen. I wished Dad had been alive not only for that picture, but mostly so he could see his grandson run out onto Lambeau Field wearing number eight.
A return to Denver’s Mile High Stadium last fall after forty years whisked me back to my own childhood. Squeezed between my parents in bleacher seats near the top of the east stands—now a parking lot adjacent to today’s stadium—I had shouted, jumped and clapped for the Broncos, my hometown team. In those days I was in heaven watching my football hero, the Broncos running back Floyd Little, weaving his way through defenders. The stench of sloshing beer, the hike to our seats (Dad insisted on far-away free street parking), a sun-scorched face and splintery wooden bleachers were a small price to pay for a Sunday afternoon at Mile High with my mom and dad. So November 1, 2015, in Denver was a special night. This time I was flanked by Ted, his wife Bekah and my best friend Colleen from my University of Colorado days. The obnoxious beer smell was the same. It was still a trek from the train station to the stadium’s upper deck. Plastic seats replaced the bleachers, and we watched in chilly darkness rather than in the afternoon sun. The guy I was watching on the lighted field was my son and my cheering was for his team, not my once-adored Broncos. The Packers walked off of the field with their first loss of the season, but nothing could wipe the smile from my face.
The Packers Super Bowl XLV victory in Dallas on February 6, 2011, Tim’s rookie year, still seems dreamlike. Two weeks earlier in Chicago, stiff and shivering on a raw winter day, I proudly watched Tim help his team get to the Super Bowl with an exceptional performance in the NFC Championship Game. Then in Cowboys stadium, through watery eyes and with a death grip on Amanda’s hand, I watched the last few seconds of the game before rushing onto the confetti-sprayed field, frantic to find and hug Tim.
My skin tingled every time I spotted Tim on any NFL field, whether on TV or from the stands. I held my breath with each punt—all 435 of them in 106 games—always hoping and praying it would be his best.
The Packers’ front office cut Tim from their roster today for reasons I don’t know, but six years of memories will hang around for a long time. Even so I think I’ll leave our Packers flag flying for a few more days—giving my heart time to catch up.
About the Author: Jean Masthay grew up in Denver, Colorado, and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from the University of Colorado. She is the mother of six adult children and currently lives in Lebanon, Ohio, with her husband of thirty-six years. She is Executive Director of a nonprofit that provides equine experiences for children and adults with special challenges. Jean began her writing journey during a memoir workshop at the 2011 Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Her work has been published in Brain, Child.