I used to hate football. Vehemently. It’s always been my brother’s sport of choice, which perhaps has something to do with it. We fought like maniacs over the TV during football season, when as many football games as possible had to be watched, and when the season was over the fighting continued because he’d hog the TV with his football video games.
I minded it less when he was on the field–some of my friends’ brothers played football, too, and I could talk to them or run around the bleachers. One year in elementary school, I joined the cheer squad, and that made football something I looked forward to. Still, though I loved the kicking and the pom-poms, I had no idea (or interest in) what was going on on the field. I didn’t have to. The head cheerleader knew, as did the coach, and when told to do so, I would shout First and ten, do it again! Go! Fight! Win!
This enthusiasm didn’t carry over into high school. I went to my brother’s games, less excitedly now as I wasn’t exactly in with the football-game-going crowd, and I screamed and cheered when somehow the ball ended up in his hands (he was a defensive something something, big guy who tackles people, I don’t really know) and he managed to score a touchdown. But as a somewhat surly, nerdy, antisocial teenager, I couldn’t get into the pageantry of it. The fight song, the wave. It was what lemmings did. I scoffed at football fans, the way they scraped personal validation off the players’ cleats because they happened to buy a foam finger and root for the winning team. Plus, it made everyone so happy, and I was suspicious of things that brought joy to the masses.
In college, my boyfriend dragged me to a game. I brought a Harry Potter book. Read the whole thing. Scolded a drunk kid for misspelling “Washington” in the fight song (half of which is merely spelling “Washington State, Go Cougs”). Nearly fell asleep.
Now, as an adult, I don’t really care so much about not being one of many. In fact, I’d kind of like to be part of that group I worked so hard to separate from. Because despite what I thought in high school, being part of that group doesn’t mean you’re just one of the crowd. I live in Seattle, and if you know anything about football at all, you know the Seahawks won the Super Bowl last year. Everywhere I go, I see blue and acid green. The number 12 is everywhere. (If you don’t know what that means, go look it up.) I took my son to the doctor’s office this morning and one of the nurses wore her name badge dangling from a Seahawks lanyard. Last year, a woman wearing acid green nail polish with blue tips cooed over my baby son in a Starbucks. The girl who babysits my son twice a week is a superfan. I see people strike up conversations on the topic of football all the time. It’s something to chat with the supermarket checker about, or other parents on the playground. It’s a social bridge, and I am sorely lacking in social bridges. I got on the Mad Men train way too late and now everyone is talking about Game of Thrones, which I really really really don’t want to watch. I totally missed Downton Abbey. With mom friends, there’s always something to talk about (sleep, poop, runny noses, haircuts, hand-me-downs, Cheerios, milestones, rubber ducks) but what about their husbands? What about the childless? While I am acquainted with quite a few people who share my enjoyment of Lorrie Moore stories, roller derby, and/or Orange is the New Black, I am currently not in contact with any of them. Maybe one. A couple through Facebook. Maybe.
Sometimes I fake it. Or I let the football lovers educate me. But most of the time, they’re not really interested in explaining what a down is and why it matters, especially to someone like me, who is so thick-headed about it. I know I don’t want to explain Cloud Atlas to someone who knows it only as a Tom Hanks movie. Not at a cocktail party. It would be exhausting.
I suppose I could learn some players’ names. I used to know a little about Peyton Manning, but apparently he’s old now and no longer plays for the Colts and has a brother who’s even better than he was. I can’t keep up. I could learn enough about the rules to toss the ball around on Thanksgiving, though I’m usually busy in the kitchen.
Or I could teach my friends and their spouses the rules to roller derby and watch their eyes glaze over. Either way.