Somewhere, right now, an athlete warms up, stretches, and mentally reviews his form, preparing for the big game. Americans everywhere do the same, following their rituals for things like icing beer or making onion dip from soup mix. The Superbowl begins in hours and it’s got football on my mind.
My high school’s team ranked number one in the state for five years, earning the boys a 1.2 million dollar stadium. I walked past it on my way to English and Latin, classes held in permanently parked trailers euphemistically called ‘portables’. In Florida football is not a pastime but a religion. I have been greeted at 7am, in my bathrobe standing over a newspaper, by the shouts of a never-met neighbor who needed to know right away who won in overtime last night.
I couldn’t tell him. Despite efforts by every member of my family I don’t care about the Giants or the Gators. Somewhere around age 13 they decided I didn’t like football because I didn’t understand it, and weekly lessons began. I sat on the couch absorbing knowledge of first downs, flags, and offensive lines wishing I could go read a book. It came as no surprise when I picked a college without a football team. My family gave up, sure that I hated the game.
I agreed with them long enough that I made Mallory, the main character in my novel, a football fan. I didn’t want anyone to think she was a Mary Sue, a main character that is a stand in for the author, so I made a list of traits we wouldn’t share. She drinks Dr. Pepper, I drink Coke. She loves the heat, I loath it. So when it came to football, of course, she had special game day plates and favorite snacks.The sport was part of her life, something she shared with friends, and it brought her great joy.
Oddly, the more I wrote about her and her team (the New Orleans Saints) the less I hated the sport. Mallory’s love of football was wrapped around her love for her father, who had been out of her life for years. Wearing his jersey, routing for his team, and watching the plays he’d taught kept her close to him. Somewhere along the way, researching those players and picking those traditions changed my own views about the sport.
I still don’t have a favorite team. You won’t find me at a sports bar and I’ve never been to a Superbowl party, but I won’t joke about rabid fans, or belittle them for being excited. While I may not be interested in the sport, I’ve come to respect the relationships it creates and the happiness it brings. I won’t be watching today’s game for the plays, but I do want to see if Derrick Coleman invites those two little girls to the game again.