When I was a kid, I had plenty of reasons (or so I believed) to hate the sport of football — but I think I can trace it back to one week in particular during 7th grade.
I’m an August kid. For those countless masses of you of you lucky enough NOT to have been born at the end of summer vacation let me explain to you what this means:
1) You never have to go to school on your birthday.
2) When you start working, you really start to miss #1.
3) You’re either a year older or younger than everyone else, depending on when your parents decided to have you go to school. In my case, it meant that I was younger than everyone else. I turned 21 after my senior year of college, for example.
4) No birthday cake at school. Ever.
Because of #3, this made sports an impossibility for me — although I never let myself believe this until I was in seventh grade; the year I decided to go out for the football team. The tryouts didn’t go very well. I was unflatteringly compared to the main character from the movie Rudy (which I still haven’t seen for that reason, sorry Sean Astin).
Afterwards I was very upset and the coach found me crying. In an act of unthinkable kindness, he told me I could be team manager. This lasted for one practice before the jeers of “water boy” drove me away (again in tears). I felt horrible — I’d let the coach down after he’d done that wonderful thing for me. So wretched.
At that point, I think I started compiling a list of reasons to hate the sport of football in particular: It was slow, it was hard to understand, the people who played it were meatheads anyway, etc. I started making a tally in my head of the number of times my video games were disconnected at a bad time so that a football game could go on — or every time a jock beat up a friend of mine in high school and I wasn’t there to stop it — or every asshole fan I met that caused me to reinforce any of those stereotypes in my head.
What ultimately changed my mind on football is a 15-year relationship with a woman who is a die hard fan of the San Francisco 49ers. Last year during the playoffs, I got to see her whole family gather and watch the games together. I got them to explain the rules to me and patiently answer my questions.
Later, some patient co-workers and friends of mine (one an Oakland Raiders fan — take THAT stereotypes!!!) also took time to help me understand what was going on, how the game worked, how the meta-game worked.
And then came fantasy football and the The League.
And all of a sudden everything crumbled and I started watching games. I started learning about the players and their storylines. I started watching the Sunday Night broadcast on NBC (which, if I’m not mistaken, is the highest rated sports show period right now), and they also do a really great job of filling us newbz in and making us feel included.
Aside: I’ve also noticed that the commercials during that show seem to be of a remarkably less piggish kind. Mary has had occasion to announce several times “Wow! It’s like the NFL woke up and finally realized I want to give them money too!”
I’ve even got a few teams I’m following. Given that I’m in LA, I can’t just attach myself to the local team — but by the end of the season, I will pick my one team. The team I’ll be bound to the rest of my life. It’s like another marriage, or so I’ve been told.
As of last night, whichever of the three teams I’ve been following this season (Denver, Tenessee, or San Francisco) gets the furthest into the playoffs wins my first football fandom ever.
And I’ll go buy a jersey or some merch and get ready for a long life of fandom.
I still intend to follow three teams a year, by the way. But one of them will always be MY team. That’s kind of exciting to a guy who just a few years ago wouldn’t let himself think of enjoying that kind of thing.
And I’ve got a sports app on my phone.