I got started thinking about how it was that I came to love football. Here are some ideas.
Football was important in our house growing up. My dad had played high school football and been offered a scholarship which he declined since he was disinclined to live in El Paso. ("A desert on one side and a foreign country on the other," he will tell you, should the subject come up.) He was, in my childhood, a fan of the Houston Oilers, although football is not his favorite sport to watch. Baseball and the Astros take top billing, but this does not stop him from knowing the complete stats of every player and team in the NFL.
My mom's love of and devotion to the Green Bay Packers comes from my grandpa, who though far too small and gentleman-like to have ever played the sport, was a devoted fan. Except for the World War II years in Sicily and the final years down near my parents, he lived his entire life less than an hour from Green Bay. My mom thus grew up in the frozen tundra and her love of football is pretty well confined to the Packers. She will not hear them criticized, which happens often thanks to my dad, keeping things interesting on game day. One year she found out after the season that my dad had made a running bet in which a co-worker took the Packers all season and my dad their opponents. Not only was she glad that he lost money, she called him Traitor for months. She continues to refer to Ray Nitschke as "my buddy" after she met him at the 4-H fair once where he was signing autographs and they had a nice conversation. One year my dad bought her diamond earrings for Christmas. Another year he got her an autographed photo of Brett Favre. Guess which one she liked better.
So this is how I grew up. We'd go to church (with, I swear, shorter sermons when there was a noon game), drive through Taco Bell so as not to waste precious game-watching time with sandwich prep, and gather around the TV, my dad pointing out everything that the Packers did wrong and my mom telling him repeatedly to shut up. Every year we'd get the Packers yearbook which listed every NFL game of the season in the back. My dad would read them out and we'd all pick a winner in every single game. I used to use team colors and cuteness of mascot (I tended to pick the Dolphins and Broncos a lot) to make my picks back in the day. I'm pretty sure I was never the "most correct picks" winner of the family.
When I got to high school, my first job was selling shoes at the Finish Line. We had TVs in the store and back then we got to watch whatever we wanted on them (by my college years they started putting out hated corporate videos that had to run continuously.) So on Sundays the only people in the store would be men who had been dragged to the mall. They'd congregate in front of the TVs and we, having no buying customers, got paid to stand around and watch the games. High school also began my eight-year run in marching band, which meant that I was at every Parker High School or UW-Whitewater home game during those years. Not only did I watch a lot of football that way, but the game became tied to good memories of the fun and camaraderie of the band and the adrenaline of performance. It was also through the Whitewater band that I got to attend my first two Packer games. We marched half-time and post-game and got to sit on the hallowed sod of Lambeau Field, by then my Mecca.
You may assume that my interest in football came out of a desire to attract men. I must say I was pretty well in the middle of it by the time this even occurred to me as a possible benefit. It has very much not worked out that way. My one romantic relationship that was affected by football was not the better for it. The guy I was seeing told me that he turned off the Superbowl in which the Packers were playing to watch the X-Files. Granted, the Packers were losing due to the fact that the Packers were playing terribly and it was a horribly depressing game for Packer fans, but still. STILL. I won't say that's why I stopped seeing him, but it certainly was the beginning of the end.
Strangely, football has bonded me with at least as many women as men, including one past and two present roommates. When Vicki came to work with me back in 2000, we bonded over our mutual love of books and the NFL and hatred of the Saturns we then drove. In the two years that we lived together, we watched a lot of football, napped through a lot of football, and went to two pro games (Redskins/Chiefs and Bills/Titans.) Now I have two roommates who share my love of the game, although they're far more interested in college ball. So it's been a learning experience for all of us. We thought the fact that our home-office is also a sports room, featuring much Packers, Texas Tech, and Spurs memorabilia including autographs, would be impressive to men. So far the only big reaction was from a married guy who wondered out loud how such cool chicks into sports could still be single. We did a collective shrug.
Not to say that I haven't bonded with any guys over football. Just friendboys instead of boyfriends. Cory and I could shout profanity at the TV in perfect unison. Carl and I had to stop watching games together when we discovered that we were jinxing the team with our combined presence. It turned out that the Pack were able to win as long as Jesse or Jake were with us. Whew. And when I taught at a two-year college in New York, putting my email address which ends in @gbpackersfan.com on the board earned me instant points with a lot of my male students. One, Frankie, had played in high school and, at least according to him, was likely to get a scholarship until he blew out his knee in practice. He used to come up front after he'd finished his work to draw plays on the board and educate me on such topics as which is the strong side. And my dad and I have a lot more to talk about during football season.
See, football for me is so much more than sport. It's memories and family. It's community. It's history, tying me to fans through the ages, including my little grandpa who went to the luxury box in the sky where he now watches with Coach Lombardi and my mom's buddy Ray, joined this season by the Minister of Defense Reggie White. It's about watching the people who are best at something do that thing. And yes, it's a little bit about attractive men in tight pants. And it's going to be a long spring and summer.