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.”

55 Responses to “A football kinda town”

  1. Great story – well illustrated.

    • I love football and sports activities. Have you felt the joy when the goals stated in the opponent’s net for me it is very interesting.
      many thanks for your article.

  2. That looks like blast – great pic and story.

  3. Lovely story! The picture is great as well, everyone looks like they’re having a lot of fun

    http://pjmgfashionn11.wordpress.com/

  4. Football can be a comforting element as we await the brutal weather of winter. Great depiction of families having fun, love this post…

  5. Amazing! I’m always intrigued by how people share their passions … this guy is definitely doing a GREAT job.

    🙂

    …and your writing/photography is beautiful as well!

  6. This is my boyfriend and brothers dream! To have a football field right outside their backdoor!

    Love it!

    Amanda
    http://bullfrogsandbulldogs.wordpress.com/

  7. summer is over 😦 boooooooo

  8. As a huge football fan, I am SO glad that summer is almost over! 😀 And I love the idea of someone creating a football field for the kids to play on…it’s something that gets them outside, gets them excited about the game, and it’s something that I’m sure they’ll never forget. 🙂

    Great post and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  9. I want to grow up, become sucessful, and buy a house beside my brother (I just started College so i have some time left :P) and in between our houses, i want this to be there so both of our kids can play there (when we get kids).

    I loved it.

    Cheers,
    Arjun Kay

    http://arjunsmind.wordpress.com/

  10. so awesome. looks like these kids are having a good time. very nice touch on the kiddy gridiron. DA BEARS!!!

  11. Reminds me of some little boys I knew growing up…creating their own wiffle ball field in the backyard of our house…

  12. It made me remember about my own childhood and happy time i had. This is great story.

  13. Brilliant! This reminds me of the historic district in Snohomish, WA. I want this life for my kids 🙂

  14. Beautiful on so many levels!!! I probably only have a hint at some of them, but the depth is astonishing.

  15. Like a gridiron version of “If you build it, they will come.” Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  16. great story! just signed my son up for his first flag football team and i’m thrilled to see if he enjoys it! thanks for sharing!

  17. As a Chicagoan and football fan, I adore this. Great work!

  18. Awesome story & great for the kids!

  19. Now that’s a cool family! Congrats on being FP!

  20. Very awesome family with great values…great story

  21. I really love the story behind the picture, but have to say… that is a GREAT picture!!!! Love it! Side note: I actually live IN the house I grew up in (minus the parents, who have moved, of course!), but there’s been an empty lot across the street from the time I was little until current day. We always flew kites and played games in that lot, so while it wasn’t forbidden, I had quite a few dreams about making that big lot mine one day. Well, I never imagined I’d actually be living in my childhood house as an adult, but here I am! And, since the lot is still open, it may not be “mine” but it’s still free for me to use as I please. 🙂

  22. Thank you from Sweden for this beautiful and positive post.

  23. I loved this story, and more importantly, the message it sends. Family, community, and let kids be kids. They grow up way too fast anyway. Beautiful photograph!

  24. […] 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 Nick Nov … Read More […]

  25. Great football time u have! and nice football yard too 🙂

  26. wow kerennn

  27. Great back yard. Though I’m not in the least bit sporty I can appreciate the trouble some people go to.

  28. Beautiful field. Beautiful homes. Cool little football players. Looks like life couldn’t be any better. Awesome photo.

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  30. I agree that Football is the consolation prize for summer’s end. What a beautiful story this is. It makes me wonder what uncharted territory or forbidden field might await me.

  31. Now that is a backyard field that makes any fan want to play.

    Thanks for sharing.

  32. […] A football kinda town (via Chi-Town Chimpin’) Posted on August 24, 2011 by mpjd86 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 Nick Nov … Read More […]

  33. I never really liked football itself, but I love the IDEA of football. Or the feel of it? I can’t exactly describe it. I mean, I hate watching games and even more playing it, but there still HAS TO BE football hahaha.

  34. AHHH…football!!! Great Story & congrats on being FRESHLY PRESSED!!!

  35. What a fun thing to do, buy the mean neighbor’s house and turn it into a playground!!! Congrats on FP and great choice!

  36. Love this story! The picture is great. We had a yard in our neighborhood that was off limits. The owner of the yard though went to bed early and we played capture the flag after the lights went out!

  37. that picture is adorable!

  38. This is great! It brings back the memories of my backyard growing up which played host to soccer, football, badminton and wiffleball. I cringed the very first time we painted baselines, fearing my father would blow his stack, but taking the chance anyway.

  39. thank you for kind sharing. A great article.

  40. […] 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 Nick Nov … Read More […]

  41. thank your sharing. That is wonderful childhood. I love football and have many memories on the pitch.

  42. That’s a great picture. In Canada we often have ice rinks in our back yard…My Canadian family is a football family tho! And this is inspiring! My sons (8 and 5 yrs) would go crazy for this.

  43. Yes, there is something Rockwell about the scene you describe.

    I live in Scotland. To us, of course, ‘football’ (or ‘fitba’ in our accent) means (and can only mean) the game that you play with your foot. Yes, soccer. We are obsessed by soccer; it is said that there are only two seasons of the year in Scotland and these are ‘Football’ and “What the hell are we going to do for the next two weeks until Football starts again’. Our obsession is in inverse proportion to our skill at the game, which is poor compared to our English neighbours. To be fair, our population is about one tenth of theirs, so they have a greater pool from which to draw young players.

    The English (bless ’em) gave the world so many major ball-sports. Football for one. It gained its nickname of ‘Soccer’ in a peculiar way. Once upon a time there was only football, the game in which you kicked a ball. Then one day at Rugby school a boy named William Webb Ellis is reputed to have picked up the ball in a football match and run with it. From that unlikely event the sport of Rugby Football was born, and the first use of the oval ball. The original kicking game eventually became overseen by The Football Association and the differentiations of ‘Rugby Football’ and ‘Association Football’ came about.

    Rugby Football became, in the speech of upper-class lads at school, ‘Rugger’, using a typical affectionate diminutive of ‘Rugby’. Association Football became ‘Socer’ with on ‘c’ and pronounced ‘so-ser’. At some point an intrusive second ‘c’ appeared, for no apparent reason and ‘Soccer’, pronounced ‘socker’, became the word.

    From Rugby, of course, other ball-handling sports such as ‘American Football’ and ‘Australian Rules Football’ (a deliberate combination of Rugby and Gaelic Football) came. Yep, the gridiron had its origins at a school for the sons of English aristocrats…

    The English also gave the world Cricket and, believe it or not, probably Baseball too.

    But don’t despair. America gave us all Rock and Roll!

    Thanks for your blog, and please forgive the ramble. 🙂

  44. This would have been a dream of mine as a kid to have a field like this in our neighborhood. Our football and baseball games were played in the friendly confines of our street. In football we could tackle each other on the sidelines if the ball carrier was near the grass on either side of the street. This led to great hits, miraculous catches on the sidelines and quite a few skinned knees from being tackled on the curb. Although I have great memories of street football; these kids are so lucky.

  45. I really enjoyed your post .Love the photographs and your story!Thank you for sharing that.

  46. Wow.. Great~!…

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