I used to think NFL football was played on Friday nights. I thought I knew this because I recalled my grandmother hosting Friday night football events in her spare living room, the boy’s living room. My grandmother, whom I called Nanny, lived in southern California where she raised seven boys with Down Syndrome, six of the boys lived with her in foster care, the seventh was my Uncle Ron–all were serious football fans with a predilection for the San Diego Chargers, although not averse to cheering on the San Francisco 49ers. The boys would don the appropriate team jersey and pile into their TV room where my Nanny would have the entire carpet blanketed with blue plastic tarp. Each boy was allowed to have one beer; now I call them ‘boys’ but in fact they were all of legal drinking age, or close enough. Anyway, they’d watch the game while drinking their beer and chowing down on the many bowls of snacks set out on the giant piece of plastic. It was quite the anticipated event, as I recall. What I didn’t recall was that it took place on Sunday night; Fridays, my Friend informed me, is reserved for high school games, and (FYI) Saturdays for college games.
My pre-2014-football-season knowledge, was, well, limited. I knew John Elway had been the QB for the Denver Broncos; I knew that QB stood for quarter back; and I’d watched a few Grey Cup games.
Grey Cup parties were big at my university. I studied in Sudbury Ontario, aka the Big Nickel, so the temperature had typically dropped below freezing by late November, when Grey Cup happens. The guys in our residence used to set up the floor couches on stolen milk cartons, creating bleachers in the living room; they’d open up all the windows and close the door. The room would remain off limits for the next few hours until it was certain the air was good and chilled, and couch cushions were crisp. At game time, we’d pile in, all bundled up in winter attire, and cram ourselves into the varying levels of couches, cases of beers stacked up, no need for coolers, we’d drink to our hearts’ content, cheering on our team. It was always a good time, but really it had little to with the sport, at least not for me–I just liked a good party.
Now it’s not about the party, it’s about the sport, the players, the plays, the coaches, and even the stadiums. I met my Friend right around the time preseason NFL starts. I had underestimated his fondness for football, but soon realized it was much for than a fondness, it was an obsession. I’d never met anyone who liked a sport to this extent. Most of my friends have little or no interest in sports at least not until playoffs, and even then most can take it or leave it. In fact, my last boyfriend often wore a t-shirt that plainly stated ‘I hate sports.’
And so, this past August, my training began. Football made up much of the time I spent with my new friend. We watched college ball on Saturdays, usually three or four back-to-back games. On Sundays, we watched three NFL games back-to-back on ‘primary watch’, which would be playing on the 50 inch screen, while The Red Zone, an NFL game-day channel that provides ‘whip around’ simulcast coverage of all the afternoon games was simultaneously broadcasting on his 27-inch computer screen; he didn’t miss a beat. To put it mildly, there’s a lot going on in his little studio apartment on game day, and many weekends had to pass before I was able to make much sense out of all of it. And to add to it, there were the Monday and Thursday night games, and the weekly Dan Patrick show podcasts.
In the beginning, I had to watch with an open mind; my meditation practice came in handy. When the negative thoughts entered my head, for example ‘I hate football’ and ‘the fans are ridiculous’, I would recognize them and then quickly shoo them away, focusing once again on the game being played. The more I watched and began to understand the intricacies of the game, the more I liked it. At first, I just focused on the players, which team had the cutest QB, that sort of thing. I had narrowed it down to Carolina’s Cam Newton and Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick; Fitzmagic, as we call him, isn’t as cute as Cam, but he’s got a Harvard degree, so he wins.
Of course, it’s not just about the sport. If you like someone, it’s important to have interests you mutually enjoy. And there’s much pleasure to be had on game days, not least of which is lounging around half-naked in one of his football jerseys half-listening while he teaches me the rules of the game (he’s even made diagrams on cardboard which are pulled out when necessary to assist my learning); it’s all rather sexy. So is the wrestling during commercial breaks, and the fooling around during halftime; as long as he pays attention to me (something I had to make clear from the start), I’ll keep watching.
As I typically root for the underdog, it was a bit of a disappointment to watch Seattle and New England make it to the Super Bowl. We’ll still watch the game, but there are bigger things coming down the pipeline, the NFL Draft prospects are out, time to start scouting for next season.
I’ve drawn the line at video games.