I woke up this morning and realized: I'm no longer the person I was. I'm someone else — I'm a person who knows something about football. I can look at those silly, helmeted and padded bodies and figure out what they're doing and why they're doing it. And I don't have to concentrate like hell to do this anymore. I can just watch the game.
Just shoot me. There go my Sunday afternoons. Actually, they are already shot because my husband is a dedicated Patriots fan, dedicated to the point where he has to watch how well all the other teams in their division are playing, too. That's how I came by my new knowledge: osmosis. And my husband, patiently answering my questions, over and over.
Now, I'm not saying I can intelligently discuss plays and strategies throughout a game. I'm still not sure what all the positions are. But I can figure out enough to surprise my husband periodically with an assessment that is not without merit. I've moved beyond providing nothing but color commentary, rooting for teams based on how attractive and slimming their uniforms are. In that arena, the Saints win every time they are wearing their black pants. I also admire the elegant fleurs-de-lys on their helmets; overall, they have a refinement that makes every other team (except, occasionally, the Ravens) look like clods. My other important stylistic insight is that every team needs at least one guy with dreadlocks or long, flamboyant hair streaming beneath his helmet. He's usually a guy to watch, especially if he's a receiver. Or a running back. (Wait, how do I even know what a running back does?)
I knew enough about the Patriots game last night to walk out during the third quarter, fairly certain that they'd hang tough and win. I knew enough, watching the last 20 seconds or so of the game, to see that the Packers' quarterback was lost. I could tell he was doing the very things I'd do, in other words. He and I were on the same page, and it was the wrong page.
And, of course, I always know what Bill Belichick is going to say during the post-game conference. (But who doesn't?)
I'm not saying that knowing something about football is an achievement; it's just a normal accomplishment for most Americans, like driving (which I also don't do). My mother was a lifelong football fan. I never understood it at the time but, after all, she grew up two blocks from the high school stadium and everyone else in her family was a fan. It's too bad she's not around now; we could finally crow together over her Eagles and Michael Vick, who is on fire.
On the other hand, I'm not sure that death prevents people from following sports. When the Sox won their first series in 83 years, the graves at Mount Auburn were covered with pennants, Globe headlines, hats, and notes that said things like "We finally did it, dad." And you could tell: the mood in that cemetery was different. It was as quiet as always. But it was quietly joyful.
To me, my new understanding is amazing. It gives me hope that I might someday wake up and suddenly be able to understand people speaking Italian or French, something I've always longed to do.
I'd thought it was hopeless. I had to play coed touch football in high school. In the mid 1970's, the Women's Liberation Movement was in its heyday, and we had a pair of gym teachers who were firmly with the program. Every fall, we sat and listened to the football coach patiently introduce the rules of game to us, complete with play diagrams on an overhead projector. Every year, his lecture might as well have been delivered in Latin; I have never felt so lost as I was on that field on chilly October afternoons, wondering what I'd just been told to do and longing to be back in chemistry lab. My only consolation was that winter brought us indoors for coed gymnastics square-dancing. For girls, climbing the rope was optional, but boys had to try the girls' balance beam. They looked worse up there than I did, at least.
Here's a confession I've only told my husband: I used to play for the Patriots. This was back in the '80s, when they were really bad and hardly anyone watched them. Naturally, you won't find me in the record books; teams still can't have women players, which is stupid. I was given a guy's name and it was all kept very quiet. But I played strong safety, and I was mean and aggressive. Even though I still didn't understand the game, I knew I was supposed to knock people down, and I did, head-butting with abandon I usually remembered to only tackle guys who were in uniforms that looked different from mine.
Naturally, I sustained a lot of concussions; as a result, I remember very little of those days. I don't remember ever signing a contract or being paid, for example. But, when the Patriots are in a rough patch, my husband always speculates about whether I'm going to be called out of retirement. But I have a lot more class than, say, Brett Favre, and I plan to stay retired if Belichick comes begging. Plus, one of my fingers is usually bothering me — I still haven't recovered from all that wreath-making from two weeks ago — and you know how hard it is to play football when you have a sore finger.