A football kinda town
End of summers seem to remind us of our own mortality. Good thing we have football to make us feel better. As the calendar turns to late August, when I’m photographing all things gridiron, I think of the Better Than Ezra song “This Time of Year”.
It goes like this: “Well, there’s a feeling in the air. Just like a Friday afternoon. Yeah, you can go there if you want, though it fades too soon.”
I had these lyrics in my head as I arrived at Nic Novak’s house in Forest Park this weekend. I was there to photograph a story about a 30-yard by 20-foot football field Novak carved out — complete with painted yardage markings — in the side lawn of his home for his kids to play on. In fact, all the neighborhood youngsters flock to it and Saturday was one of the first games of the season. Call it a preseason game as it’s a mixed-use facility that doubles as a Wiffleball field so Novak had just recently painted it. Appropriately stretched across one end zone is the family name “NOVAK”, while the other pays homage to the hometown heroes with an orange and blue block-lettered “BEARS”.
There was popcorn, and a scoreboard, and many of the kids wore the jerseys of their favorite professional players. Some parents sipped on cold beer and laughed as they watched from the sidelines. It’s Rockwell meets Lombardi, err Halas.
“So go on, let it be. If there’s a feeling coming over me, seems like it’s always understood this time of year.”
Turns out Novak grew up directly across the street. The side yard that is now home to this mini mecca of the midway was once forbidden territory. As Novak recalls, the old man who previously lived there wasn’t too keen on letting him and his brother use the yard as a pass-through, much less a football field. Uncharted territory can manifest as the holy grail to young boys and so when the property — a two family residence — came up for sale a decade ago, the brothers Novak jumped at the chance to buy it. They thought they might stay a few years as they lived out their bachelorhood but neither moved and both are now married with families. It’s a full house, though no one seems eager to leave. And why would they? They’re having too much fun.
All this leads to one big family football affair and it plays out each week in that same side yard the Novaks were never allowed to set foot in as kids. They gather there now and play a game perfectly designed for this time of year. A time to huddle together outdoors and enjoy the company of one another before it’s too cold. Before it’s too late.
“Well, there’s a football in the air, across a leaf blown field. Yeah, you can go there if you want, though it fades too soon.”