After 15 years in the game, Sally Freeze thinks she's just about got the role of football parent down pat.
Describing herself as an intruder in "a man's domain," Freeze said it took a while to learn that "when your son is carrying the ball, you don't stand up and yell, 'Defense.' " Today though, it's obvious how far the bookkeeper/secretary at Porcelite Industries in Rockville has come from her rather conspicuous introduction to the sport.
Mother of five sons, she has become one of the most enthusiastic boosters of Rockville's Richard Montgomery High School, where four of her boys have played football. "For the last 15 years, our family has lived for September until the end of the season," she said.
That passion with the sport has brought full circle her and husband John, a warehouse supervisor at Curtin Matheson Scientifics in Jessup. The two met while high school students in Pottsville, Pa. John was on the football team, Sally was in the band and "the game was the social activity in the town on Friday nights," she said.
Years later, Friday nights still are a focal point in their lives.
Eldest son Jeffrey, 24, never played the game, and at age 23, second son John's career has ended. However, they still fervently follow Joel, 20, a former all-Met at Richard Montgomery who is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, as well as Jason, 17 and Jared, 16. The last two are on the varsity team at Richard Montgomery.
Describing her sons' involvement in football as "a way of keeping them off the streets," Freeze felt that, at one time, her biggest problem was an inability to cover the pavement herself. That was when four sons were playing in four leagues.
"We would have to sit down before every weekend and plan out a schedule," she said. "If two of the boys were playing at the same place, but on different fields, John and I would switch at halftime. If they were at different places, I'd go to one and my husband to the other."
Joel's departure for college has presented another challenge: the Freezes will have to leave early on Saturdays to see him play. This after going to their younger sons' games on Friday nights. Fortunately, three of the Tar Heels' road games will be played in this area, against Navy, Maryland and Virginia.
At whatever game she attends, she will continue what has almost become a game within a game -- learning the sport, as well as finding the parameters of being a football parent. "I know they appreciate the fact that I'm there, but, the older they get, the more sensitive they get about how you act when you're there," she said.
"I used to be very excitable and shout and scream the most, but that would embarrass them. I'd holler 'Run, honey, run,' and was told very firmly that I couldn't do that. They'd say, 'I could hear your voice above everyone else's.' Now I practice restrained enthusiasm. I even pace quietly."
She admits there still are times when she wishes she could be less restrained. "My husband works on the chains during the games," Freeze said, "so, if one of them got hurt, he's right there, but mothers don't run out onto the field. You don't run down sidelines, either. If you're good and act real cool, maybe you can ride in the ambulance while Dad follows in the car."
She was instrumental in the school's becoming one of the first in the area to install lights, which the booster club is paying off by selling programs and running a snack bar during games. But the fact that her sons will use them only for a limited time doesn't seem important.
"I know the day will come when they're not playing anymore, but I can't envision it. I guess that's just part of being able to let the children go. But I think that even if we didn't have their games to go to, we'd still go to see the high school play."
Of course, there is the possibility that her sons' careers could be extended, if Joel, 6 feet 3; Jason, 6-4; or Jared, "6-1 and still growing," said Mom, were to play professionally.
On the walls of her office at Porcelite, there are nearly as many pictures of the Redskins' John Riggins as there are of her sons.
But although Freeze says the family "gears their lives toward the Redskins, too," she'll make no predictions about her children's futures.
"I'd hate to say anything like that without knowing if the potential was really there or not," she said. "I know college has been a big adjustment for Joel in terms of techniques. It's like he's learning the game all over again."
Still, in her heart of hearts, wouldn't there be absolute joy at having her not-so-little kids grow up to be full-fledged Hogs?
"Maybe," she said, "but I wouldn't say it. That would be one of the things that would embarrass them. Mothers don't make predictions about their sons."