A beginner's guide to watching football
Confession time: Despite being raised in Texas, for most of my life I have not cared about football. To make matters worse, I went to high school at one of the schools chronicled in Friday Night Lights. Coming of age in that type of environment, where it really is a religion, made me reject football on principle. I couldn't care enough to attempt understanding it. However, this year my loved ones are so excited about football season that I am trying my darndest to embrace it.
Learn the basics
When I asked the most hardcore fan I know to sum up the point of football in one sentence, this was his answer:
"To get more points than the other team by having a better defense and offense."
So the team needs to advance the ball to get points and defend against the other team to keep them from getting points. Seems pretty simple, right? Except football language is so complicated when they start throwing out terms like blitzing and pass blocking. There are a passel of positions that involve "backs" in some capacity; quarterback is easy to remember, but halfback and cornerback can get confusing. Don't let that dissuade you. You don't have to memorize it all right this second. '
No one is going to test you. Pay attention to the commentary and ask questions (just not during intense plays—that gets you some dirty looks). Once you learn a term, try to use it. As a former theater kid, I have a pesky habit of using theater terminology in inappropriate situations, like calling halftime "intermission" or uniforms "costumes." Sure it's funny once, but if you are going to venture into new territory, try to learn the lingo.
Watch with a fan
When I was a kid, I remember my grandmother screaming at the Cowboys like a deranged coach, even though they were on TV. If things went well, she'd cheer like she was right there in the stands. I think the angriest I ever saw her in life was yelling at "her Boys" for bad plays. It seemed ridiculous to me that she would get so worked up over a game. I have found, however, that the ardent devotion is part of the fun. When I watch games on TV, my favorite part is when they show close-ups of the stands. People are so into it, their emotions are painted all over their faces–anticipation, devastation, resolve, anger, elation–it's all there. Watching with true fans is captivating because people are so invested.
Go to a game in person
If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where you can attend college or professional games (and can afford it), why not try out a game just to say you did? High school games are also a great, more cost effective local option. Sitting in the stands with the band playing and crowd screaming is infectious. It is a little harder to follow the game without the instant replay and the commentary to help you out, but it is worth it just for the experience. Plus you can actually enjoy the half-time show with its marching bands and dance performances. With the exception of the Super Bowl, most of the time TV cuts out the full half-time show.
Pick a team
One of the reasons I think I was never drawn in by football was that I never really cared who won. Picking a team to root for gives the game more meaning. Ideally, picking a team to follow for the season is the most rewarding because you start to learn the players' names and become invested in their success. If you end up watching a game where your team isn't playing, pick someone to cheer for even if it is just for the one game. That's part of the fun of football–you can have a casual relationship or a long term commitment to a team as it suits you. You can also be as logical (picking a team based on performance) or illogical (picking a team based on whose uniforms you like better) as you wish.
No, really. Based on the real life story of Notre Dame's Rudy Ruettiger, Rudy is an inspiring movie that just happens to be about football. Rudy's determination and dedication will make even the most jaded heart grow three sizes. Sean Astin stars in this pre-Lord of the Rings role which highlights his ability to go the distance (Rudy is in many ways like Samwise). Rudy's love for his team and football certainly frames the game in an inspiring way that reminds you why sports can mean so much to so many people. If you want to try out something with a little more girl power, track down a copy of the 1983 made-for-TV movie, The Quarterback Princess, starring a young Helen Hunt. She plays football and is Homecoming Queen!
Bask in the snacks
Whether at a football viewing party or tailgating, football is lush with fantastic snacks. It never occurred to me that there were such varied ways to make jalapeno poppers before I started to looking at recipes for my own football viewing party. Football snacks are the best–classic, simple, and yummy. Because they are basics like chicken wings and meatballs, there are infinite possibilities for options and interpretations. Plus, many guys know how to cook football snacks even if they can't normally make Mac 'n Cheese.
Organize a friendly game
For Friends fans, remember the Geller Cup? That super ugly Troll doll-thing that Ross and Monica battled for in touch football every Thanksgiving ("The One with the Football")? Why not organize your own low key game of touch football? Chances are you can find a few people willing to toss around the ball for a good spirited game. Actually playing, even on an easy level, helps you better understand the ins and outs of the game while building your appreciation for how it all works. Ugly Troll Trophy optional.
Don't be agraid to get into it.
In his stand up routine comparing baseball to football, the late George Carlin said about football that "during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you're capable of taking the life of a fellow human being." Football is intense and not just because of all the tackling. It is ripe with strange traditions and rules which vary from league to league, team to team. The Texas Aggies, for example, are at a level that even other Texas fans are skeptical. People become so invested in it that logic seems to vanish. The best piece of advice for embracing football is to just go with it. Don't question why your friend has to switch from eating chicken wings to potato salad so the team will score. Don't ask why people are shirtless with painted chests in the freezing rain. Don't roll your eyes at a chant that is outdated and no longer has any relevance to the present team. Just go with it. Enjoy the insanity for what it is intended to be–fun. After all, football, like all sports, is about coming together.
[Image via NBC]