A few months back, Katie wrote a thoughtful piece on the sometimes lonely, sometimes frustrating life of someone who is not a football fan during the fall season. There is no question that football is more interwoven into the social fabric of America than any other form of entertainment, especially on weekends. Professional football games regularly dominate fall TV ratings and the Super Bowl nearly annually breaks its own record for being the most-watched TV broadcast in American history. More than once, my wife has gone to watch the local news on a Saturday evening only to find that every network has pre-empted their newscast to show college football.
Football’s popularity makes it intensely polarizing. There is a segment of the football-watching population that is truly fanatical, absorbing detailed player statistics and talking about strategy in ways I won’t get into here. These people are easy to identify by their religious devotion to the game, their use of the word “we” rather than “they” when speaking of their team (“we didn’t get the job done yesterday”), and their reckless enthusiasm for trying to convert unbelievers. They can often be found screaming at their televisions on weekends in between managing their fourteen fantasy football teams.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are those who are openly hostile toward football and definitely not a football fan. Perhaps it’s because they are tired of seeing it everywhere, or because they hate being subjected to technical football talk, or because their favorite people disappear down a football hole for hours at a time. Some deplore the violence of the game, especially in light of disturbing recent revelations about concussions. I’ve met more than a few people whose dislike stems, at least in part, from a bad experience with another person.
Adding to the frustration is the fact that the learning curve for football is higher than most other sports. For example, soccer (which most of the world calls football) is a complex sport to master, but the basics are pretty easy to follow: use feet or head to put ball in net. Even someone who hates sports could go to a soccer game and figure out what’s going on. Football is not as intuitive; there are different phases of the game, multiple ways to score, and a dizzying array of rules and penalties, not including plays that have eleven players from each team all doing different things at the same time. Football is to sports what Shakespeare is to English class.
Of course, there is that wide range between devotion and hate, including those who like (but do not love) football and those who are knowledgeable enough about the sport but are indifferent. I happen to like football and I understand it pretty well, but I am not a fanatic. My local team is “them,” not “us,” I do not yell at my TV, and I will attend weddings and social functions even if they happen during a game. It is, like many other things in my life, a hobby, not my universe, but it is a nice hobby. Here are a few reasons why being not a football fan isn’t has fun:
Not a Football Fan? But…
It’s an enjoyable point of contact with friends. Everyone has water cooler talk of some sort, whether it be about raising children, following a TV show, talking politics, or perusing Thirty-One Gifts. I have several relatives, a number of friends, and many work colleagues that all follow football, and it makes for fun conversation, both before and after a game. It is a bit like book clubs operate, with people with a common interest digesting what they saw and contemplating what happens next.
It’s a cerebral sport.
My wife will tell you I’m a thinking man. I like thinking movies and deep books. While there is certainly a physical and athletic nature to football, it’s also one of the most intellectually interesting sports I’ve seen this side of baseball. Football is like chess with people. There is a certain anticipation in wondering what the two sides will do in any given contest, and when a game is close it can be very exciting. One of the intriguing game-within-a-game elements is watching the replays of a pivotal play, trying to figure out if a player made a catch or scored a touchdown even as the referees huddle around a screen to determine the same thing.
It has human drama.
Football players come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and from all kinds of places. You have elusive little wide receivers from small colleges, wide-bodied offensive lineman from big universities, and everything in between. Throw 53 such men per team on 32 teams and you have all kinds of stories. You have stories of overcoming adversity, both on and off the field, and you have stories of players who waste their considerable athletic potential for no good reason. There are heroes and villains and stories of brothers facing off against one another. It’s reality TV at its finest … or worst, depending on how you view reality TV.
It brings some fun to an intense time of the year.
I’m a teacher. I like what I do, but the work is hard. In contrast to summer, fall brings with it the mental, emotional, and physical intensity the job requires every day. Times to relax and veg out are cherished moments, especially in September and October. For me, the prospect of sitting down and watching teams play on Sunday afternoon is a nice thing to look forward to, a sort of payoff after a week of pouring myself out for the kids. It is even more of a payoff when fall gives way to winter, with its short days and cold temperatures.
One of my goals as a father is to help my daughters understand the basics of football. I’m not trying to inculcate a love of the sport; their own interests and temperaments will determine that. What I am trying to do is make sure they know enough to be able to have enough knowledge to be informed, just as we teach the girls about the rest of the world. At least if they get invited to a Super Bowl party, they’ll know why everyone is screaming.
Not a football fan? How do you get through the Fall?