A Word about Football

I wrote this after the 2014 Super Bowl. I never posted it. But, what better time than just before the 2015 college football season?!?

Yesterday was a big day. It was the first of the month, so I had just gotten paid and, apparently, it was the Super Bowl.

I don’t watch football. Not even on Super Bowl Sunday. Not even when I lived in Gainesville, FL and the city breathed football. I have no understanding whatsoever about how the game is played. I see men in tight pants and helmets doing football things. That’s all I see. I don’t even know in which direction either team is supposed to be running. I do, however, recognize a touchdown. I think.

When I was in 5th grade, I had this boyfriend for maybe a week. His name was Billy and he was into football. I was not the most popular girl in our class of twelve, so I was lucky to have a boyfriend. Even if he was just playing with me. Even if it was only for a week. Even if he wasn’t the boy I really had my eye on. Still, in those five to seven days, I took the relationship seriously. I wanted to find common ground and racked my brain for ways that would help us connect.

So, while sitting in the seat behind him on the big yellow bus, I told him that I wanted him to teach me about football. “Tell me all about how it is played,” I said in a confident whisper. He started with the basics and acted out possible plays with his fingers on the seat back and I watched and didn’t listen. I was only thinking about when he might kiss me. The next day, I delivered a football to his doorstep, knocked on the door, and ran away. The day after that, we broke up.

And, that was, for the next three years, my only experience with the sport. The junior high-high school I attended in this ultra-rural Connecticut community that I was growing up in, did not have a football team. We played, you know, other sports. Well, I didn’t play. I was much too awkward and self-conscious for that.

Okay, that’s not true. I did try to play. I could pitch rather well and made a go of it on the softball team, but I was a dead fish in the outfield. I would spend all of my defensive time somewhere behind second praying that the ball would never ever be hit my way. But, at least, I understood the rules of the game.

Basketball was another story. I was extremely tall so it only made sense that I would be drafted for the team. They put me in as center. And, that is all I know about basketball. This is no lie. I knew I was center. I knew that we were supposed to dribble the ball down to the other side of the court and do a layup or something and get the ball in the hoop. I didn’t even understand how the game was scored. I ran up and down the court, arms swinging like a gorilla, but never actually doing anything. It was a relief to the team when I quit.

I was always this way. Academically gifted but a real loser on the playground. I was the girl that swung at the bottom of the rope barely conjuring up enough muscle to hold on never mind climb to the ceiling. I would get so nervous playing kindergarten kickball that I couldn’t even connect my foot with the ball. Not even on a slow pitch. I could dance well. I took ballet. But, at the time, I didn’t see that as athletic. Athletics, for me, was like dying inside.

When I was fourteen, we moved from Connecticut to Florida. In many ways this was a culture shock to me. I had been attending a tri-county school, 7th-12th grade, with only three hundred and eleven students. My new high school, 9th– 12th, had thirteen hundred and eleven students. I was the only girl wearing LA Gear high tops and cutoffs on the first day of school. All the other girls were wearing purple, lime green, and fuchsia jackets and shiny pointy-toe slip-ons. And, oh my, the football stadium!

I don’t know that I had ever seen a football stadium. Seriously. My father and my uncles and my cousins and all of their friends raced motorcycles. I was dragged, many a long weekend, to the flat tracks of Schenectady, New York and Hagerstown, Pennsylvania to watch the boys (and the occasional girl) flash past me, kicking up dirt and surviving collisions. Even as a spectator to a sport I came to understand, I never felt like I fit in. I was shy around the seeming rough neck crowd, even around my cousins, and I fear that this shyness was perceived as snobbiness. I didn’t necessarily dislike racing, but I had never been on a bike and had never guzzled a beer, so I felt like a priss and a loser. More often than not, I slunk in the shadows or retreated to the safety of my parents’ motorhome only congratulating the champs when my father pushed me into the pits after a race was over.

So, when I entered this high school ecosystem of hunky jocks and slender, well dressed cheerleaders, I initially felt desperate to find a way to fit in. Having studied the flute since I was in the third grade, I joined the marching band which, depending on your view about popularity and the in-crowd, may or may not have been a sound choice. Still, while it never got me on the Homecoming Court, I generally enjoyed myself in my polyester suit and feathered cap, and started, for the first time, attending regular sports events. The ever popular Friday night football game! Yet, despite helping to provide the musical beat that I hoped helped to urge the players on and excite the crowd, I still did not understand the game. Nor did I really want to.

Though I never quit the marching band, I became involved in other activities such as being the editor of my high school yearbook, worshipping Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails, and poking holes in my stockings after lacing up my combat boots. I went off to college– the University of Florida– and between the Raves and the mischief, attended one football game. (I also attended one Sorority rush event, dolled up in the most gaudy, most brilliant, most alternative dress I could find with my double nose ring and my eggplant purple hair. I was there both as a support to a friend who honestly hoped to be initiated and as a slap in the face to an institution that I despised.) I don’t know who the Gators went up against that day. I don’t know who won. I don’t remember much at all except the blaring sun and the large plastic cups of beer. I do, however, pride myself on knowing that Spurrier was the coach at the time.

Then, college was over. And, so was football. Until this reflection today.

So, yes, today. Having been nestled in the South for the last twenty-four years, I am actually starting to regret that I did not pay more attention to Billy on the bus. There are people that I deeply care about who want me to include me in their shouting matches with the TV, their whoops and hollers, their nacho cheese dip and wings. And, I want to be included. I do. I just don’t know if, at nearly thirty-eight, when my life, barring any real tragedy, is approaching half over (okay, girl, don’t be so dramatic), if I am too old to get on the pigskin bandwagon. Is it too late for me to develop a romance with the game? I suppose, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my status as a true artist, I am willing to try.

So, I googled it and apparently The Seattle Seahawks took the trophy. (It is a trophy they take home, right?) There. That’s a step in the right direction. Next step? Finding another Billy and listening this time. Maybe this poetess can learn a few new tricks.

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