"Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned but heaven hath no sweetness like a sports fan vindicated." - Samcat

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Large Men Quibbling for Yardage in Tights

Or Pass the Pigskin, please: A primer on why I love football.

I am not like most girls. I don't get manicures. I can't walk in heels. I don't wear ruffles. And I love football. Now I know there are many woman stretched across this great land of ours who enjoy Sunday afternoons spent on the couch, beer in hand, watching the game. But there are even more who claim membership in a disturbingly large club christened "Football Widows." Wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, daughters and significant others who spend their Sundays standing next to the couch, arms crossed, foot tapping in exasperation, making audibly loud sighing noises in an attempt to distract their man from the game so he'll pay attention to her for a moment. They call their friends and exhale loudly, saying something to the effect of, "He's watching another stupid game. Again. I just don't understand why he has to do this every weekend." The person on the other end of the line is undoubtedly commiserating because these women surely don't call anyone that could actually offer a reasonable explanation as to the lure of the pigskin. No, they just want to complain.

Okay, perhaps I'm being unfair. Mass media leads us to believe that there are two kinds of women as far as sports are concerned. For convenience purposes, I shall refer to them as Old Spice Girls and Tostitos Girls after the commercials in which both appear.

Old Spice girls are the girls pictured sitting across a kitchen table from each other, rolling their eyes as their boyfriends cavort in the background as an unseen commentator on their television declares "This one's going to overtime!" Only when one of the boys gives his girlfriend an impromptu hug and his manly but non-threatening Old Spice body wash scent sends her temporarily to romantic dinners, walks on the beach and running through a field of daisies, does she smile and declare, "He's so great." Meanwhile, the boys are giving each other piggy backs and screaming like idiots in front of the TV in the other room. Her friend, I presume, is still rolling her eyes.

Tostitos girls are different. Around a television a bunch of tuxedo-clad guys are sitting, clearly outfitted for a wedding and hiding in a broom closet somewhere catching contraband glimpses of a football game. The door to the closet opens and there stands the bride, judgemental look at the ready. The guys all look guilty. The bride takes one glance past the busted looking guys and declares, "Oh great, the game's on." before plopping down, grabbing a handful of Tostitos and asking the Best Man, "How's our defense?" That's a Tostitos girl.

I am a Tostitos girl. Not insignificantly because I believe Old Spice is among the most foul odors on the planet and the entire male gender would do well to never purchase nor wear any Old Spice product again but that is not the point. The point is that Old Spice girls do not understand Tostitos girls. They don't understand how we can flop down on the couch, pop open a beer - a can even! - and proceed to discuss the new pass interference rules with the guys. And they don't understand why, even if we can, we would, since football has not exaclty been subtle about declaring itself a man's game. And I'm sure they certainly would not approve of us interrupting our wedding reception to catch a game. But I mean, come on, it's the playoffs.

Old Spice girls are not idiots. They don't abstain from football because it's "too complicated." Okay, some of them do but I believe I've covered them in my pink hat rant. Rather, many of them are very intelligent women with wonderful and interesting things to say and they simply don't understand what is so fascinating about, as my friend Jen puts it, "large men quibbling for yardage in tights." Despite what some people will try to tell you, it's not the tight pants.

I mean yes, I may have noticed that Tom Brady has an aesthetically pleasing way of filling out his uniform but that is certainly not the sole reason I love football. If that were the case, I'd watch the games on mute and would flip back and forth between the game and E! wherein I'm sure they're in the middle of some nonsense like "Ranking the Top 25 Celebrity Asses." Cute players or no cute players, that is not why I love the game.

I admit that some of my affinity for the game comes about because I take a sort of perverse pleasure in not being like other girls. I enjoy being the girl who not only makes the chili for the tailgate party but who also refuses to let her friends go inside because since they've been standing out in the wind, the Pats haven't given up a first down. (Sorry about that again, guys. I hear Vaseline works for windburn). I like getting those looks from the girls hanging on the arms of their men and tossing their hair over their shoulder. The looks that say, "Is she hitting on my boyfriend? Is 12-yard sack a euphemism for something?" But it's not even that, entirely.

Jen has argued, quite intelligently because she is a very smart girl, that football is really nothing more than manifest destiny made sport. Interesting point. Taking the cues from our founding fathers (and mothers because heaven knows this is sexist enough), modern day football players bash into each other essentially declaring, "This is my land and I will take it by force, if need be." So maybe the appeal of football to the masses is psychological. A deeply-rooted belief that we want what is ours, even if belongs to someone else. Either that, or we just like to see 400 pound lineman banging their helmets together.

There is no doubt that football is a primal game. It is violent and jarring and oftentimes painful. Lineman retire at 35 and can barely walk at 40. Quarterbacks can't lift their arms above their waists for three days after a game. Kickers, well, kickers are usually just fine and free to hock Papa Gino's pizza and Ford Trucks. (I promise I'll get around to buying that F-150 soon, Adam). But for the most part, football satisfies our baser urges for violence and contact. It's certainly not socially acceptable for normal people to go around knocking people down simply because we feel like it. Even if they really, really deserve it. (I'm talking to you, slow-walking, white coat wearing lady on the cell phone). So football players do it for us. If we wear a Tedy Bruschi jersey, it's almost like we just sacked Chad Pennington. And that momentary feeling of superiority and adrenaline rush is addictive. Who amongst us hasn't wanted to scream and throw things and knock things over when we get mad? Well football players do that. They convince themselves that the team wearing the other color uniforms has somehow done them wrong and they must set it right. Justice must be served. Football is a brand of vigilante justice. Hired mercenaries bashing into each other and annexing territory. It's visceral and for many spectators, it's cathartic. I don't suppose a girl who enjoys the noxious odor of Old Spice would understand that.

Perhaps the real reason some women can't understand why I love the game so much is because of it's inherently chauvinistic nature. Women do not play football, unless it's a much more girly incarnation called "Powder Puff" (grrrr), and they do not coach football. Professional offensive and defensive coordinators for the 32 teams are 100% male. The women you see associated with the game of football are either shoving a microphone in the coach's face as his team is in the process of blowing a 15-point halftime lead, sitting way up high in the luxury boxes with a helpful network caption identifying her as "Brett Favre's wife" or worse yet, cavorting on the sidelines in teeny-tiny outfits in all their siliconed and cap-toothed glory. Hell, I don't like cheerleaders either and I am aware that Brett Favre's wife has a name of her own (it's Deanna), but thus far I've not let manly boasting or exclusory gender tactics interfere with my enjoyment of other sports, so why should I start now? I love hockey too and I still have all of my teeth. I have learned to ignore the more offensive aspects of the male-dominated sports world, insomuch as someone assumes I don't know what I'm talking about simply because I'm female and I've even learned to relish proving them wrong. Sports in general and football in particular is not a boys club. And if you think it is, you are sorely mistaken.

I certainly can't play well. (Except for that one time when I dragged Amy across the volleyball court after catching a lobbed pass from my brother). My hands are ridiculously tiny and I can't throw a spiral to save my life. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a tightly thrown spiral or a great yards after catch average when I see it. To say nothing of a bone-jarring Rodney Harrison hit. I can't pilot an airplane or write a song either but I sure can appreciate someone who can. Just because guys could conceivably play this sport does not mean they are better or bigger fans. Especially if they're the guys I know, most of whom are far too involved in their complicated Coors Light Consumption Plans to spend hours in pads doing speed drills. (I kid because I love, guys!)

Football is also, despite outward appearances, a mental game. Playbooks are thicker than phone books and the amount of scheming and improvisation and guesswork and planning that goes into a single game is mind-boggling. Sure, some football players are your stereotypical dumb jocks. But the vast majority of them are very, very smart. Perhaps not in an "I can discern the square root of Pi to the eleventh decimal place in my head" type of smart but they are very good at what they do. And that takes intelligence. That aspect of the game appeals to me. I like that we can anticipate the opposing team's next move and try to outthink or outmaneuver them. I love that Tedy Bruschi can step in front of a pass for an interception because he read the quarterback's eyes or that Willie McGinest knew Manning was giving the ball to James because he tapped his hip with his left hand. I love that our coach is just plain smarter than everyone else. And I like that you can choose to look at football as either a game of brute strength or mental agility, but that really, it's a combination of the two.

There is no single reason that I love football. There are many reasons all culminating in my enjoyment of the game. My mom was and still is a football fan and I suspect some of it is genetic as I was never told that "girls don't watch football." Rather, my mom and I have been known to stand and scream at the big screen television "SOMEONE STOP HIM! JESUS, YOU CAN'T WIN IF YOU LET HIM THROW THE DEEP BALL!" While my dad stares in wonder at the women in his life.

I don't know if this is a sufficient explanation to make Jen or Amy or any of the other women I know start watching the game with anything other than utter distaste. But that's okay. We don't all have to agree. And I promise not to don a Richard Seymour jersey and knock them down for daring to be contrary. Now, where are the Tostitos?