It’s that time of year again.
Every year, around Labor Day, a virus creeps into my household (and 99.9% of America’s households), settling into its primary host: a television screen.
In an effort to try to understand this phenomenon, I’ll occasionally stand in front of this screen, watching colorful dots of moving, huddling figures grouping to the left, then to the right and then to the left again. Accompanying this is a persistent, roaring noise that crescendos as the swirl of dots mash into each other or break-off from the pack. Usually this culminates in a piercing whistle.
“Honey, can you please move, I’m trying to watch the game.”
Football season. The time when my husband deeply considers the value of buying an NFL Sunday Ticket (access to every single football game). A time when the couch becomes something to be negotiated.
And as hard as I try (ok, I don’t try that hard), I can’t seem to follow the game or understand why it holds so much all-consuming passion for so many people. My brain seems to have a chip missing when it comes to the gridiron. All I see is a blur. Shouts like “first in ten” or “move the chains” have little contextual relevance. No matter how many times the sport is explained to me, I still don’t really get it.
My husband believes that by talking to me as if I understand football, having conversations about it, eventually, through osmosis, I will begin to understand and love it.
“Miami is playing a cover two defense, the Mike linebacker can’t get out of position. What are they thinking?”
To some degree, he succeeds. Unfortunately (for him), I recall random, entertaining facts instead the basics of the game. For example, Jon Gruden is nicknamed “Chuckie” for his menacing evil-doll smile. Former coach and ESPN analyst Lee Corso wears the mascot headgear of the team he predicts to win college game day. (See photo). Or that Friday night is high school football (thank you Friday Night Lights), Saturday is college and Sunday and Monday are pro. (In other words, the whole weekend.)
My brain is peppered with player nicknames past and present, but I usually mix up the eras. “So does Broadway Joe play The Goose?” “What team is The Fridge on?”
You think I’m kidding.
Football and I have a long history of ambivalence. I hail from a lineage of Nittany Lions who live to tailgate. I, too, went to Penn State, but for their great Liberal Arts school and amazing daily college newspaper. My Dad, trying to indoctrinate me to the sport, gave me a season pass freshman year, before I’d even selected my course list.
I’d go to games with friends, but spent more time throwing marshmallows in the student section than watching anything on the field. I was more interested in bands, boys and books than Beaver Stadium. (And boy doesn’t that sound like a euphemism.)
I’m consistently amazed at the power football wields over all other things. In my Philadelphia family, if a Penn State or Eagles game is on, everything else kowtows: dinner is on the couch; someone is sporting blue and white or green and white attire, respectively. For a time, my brother had a trunk filled with balled up paper that he could throw at the screen during a bad play. My husband will jump up from his seat, shout at the TV, even walk out of the room if the Redskins let him down.
There’s a kind of unspoken rule that, during the fall season, football games trump all. But honestly, who says that The Voice is less critical viewing than Monday Night Football?
You’re probably thinking that deciding to marry a football fan (who has a myriad of wonderful non-football-y qualities and interests, of course) seems like some sort of self-perpetuating, Freudian cycle. Maybe so. Maybe I’ve done myself in — and because I adore my husband, I can’t have it any other way.
To be honest, I don’t actually hate football; I’ll watch a significant game or two and fall into its Colosseum-esque charms.
“It’s the great struggle of life,” my husband tries, tries again, “You’re pushing to the end zone, someone else is in your face pushing you back, saying ‘No!” And you’re roaring back, “Yessss!'”
There are wonderful things about football season — the cool snap in the air, fuzzy sweaters, frosty beers, snuggling up with my husband on the couch… I’ll just be reading a book over all that grunting, whistling and cheering.