A Conflicted Super Bowl Fan by
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Prompted By Super Bowl

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I likely will be watching the Super Bowl, especially because the 49ers, our local team, are in it. The commercials are always interesting, while the half time show usually isn’t. We will watch at home, on the large TV, with snacks that accommodate my “non-American” diet.

Things eventually calmed down ... but the next year I did not enter the football pool. Football was not yet a woman's domain.

My relationship to football, which I’d now describe as lukewarm, has always been conflicted. Ever since the first Super Bowl, I have enjoyed and appreciated the strategy and skills of the game. I have not appreciated the football culture’s misogyny, crowding out other activities financially and logistically, and especially what the game has done to the bodies and minds of the players.

For reasons I can’t explain, I’ve always had an intuitive feel for what is happening on the field, which began when, with my father, I watched football as a small child. This became very clear at about age 12. I was over at a friend’s house while her father was watching a New York Giants football game and silently smoking his pipe. The Giants were near the goal line and began to get in formation. I said, “I bet they’ll try a quarterback sneak.” They did, and scored. My friend’s father turned, looked at me, and his pipe promptly fell from his mouth.

Does anyone remember the infamous “Heidi” incident from 1968? This was when I began to understand how football could dominate other aspects of life. I watched the game in question. The clock went down to about the two-minute warning, and the score was close. However, the game had run long, and NBC had planned to show the movie “Heidi,” so they left the game and started the movie on the hour, cutting off the final two minutes of the game. The football fans were apoplectic, the upshot being that the network changed its policy and never again would cut away from a football game.

I temporarily stopped paying close attention to football when I was in college, probably due to the minor role of the sport at Brandeis (they had a team called the Judges, believe it or not), and then because I spent three years at Mills and there was no football team. The year I was in graduate school at UC Berkeley, the professors in my department (English) failed a star football player, going against the unwritten rule of passing him. Apparently the football coaches then threatened the profs with bodily harm if they didn’t change his grade. I believe that he ended up with a “D.” While I didn’t particularly like those professors for other reasons, I became jaundiced about the idea of academic integrity at Division 1 colleges.

My interest grew again during my 20s and peaked in my early 30s. This was driven by one of my clients at the time, who had a skills-based point spread NFL football pool that all could enter. (Without going into a lot of detail, for those not familiar, it involved accurately predicting whether a team would win or not within the published “spread” odds each week of the season. While it was possible to guess, knowledge of football and the specific teams made a significant difference in one’s score.) Those who had the highest number of games correctly predicted “won” each week, and then positions were tallied for the year. I was one of two women who entered.

The men pored over the statistics and analyzed themselves to near death each week. I, too, followed the teams closely and paid attention to their records and who might be ill or injured, but I did something no man did–used my intuition and watched the players’ body language, interactions with their teammates, and looked at their drive and momentum. I didn’t win each week, but I came in second for the entire year, over a large number of entrants. The men first were mystified and then infuriated, because their egos took a blow, and because they couldn’t understand how I did it, despite how much I tried to explain. Shortly after this, some hazing and harassment began. Things eventually calmed down and I kept the client, but the next year I did not enter the football pool. Football was not yet a woman’s domain.

As for the Super Bowl itself, my favorite has to be one in the mid-1990s. I don’t know the exact year and I remember nothing about the game itself now. What mattered was the sense of connection and camaraderie. I was recently divorced and connected with a group of people at my gym. We worked out as friends and occasionally went out to dinner and dancing as a group. John decided to have a Super Bowl party at his house for this group and other folks in a similar situation. Not a singles mixer, just a fun afternoon with the game and conversations with friendly people. I remember the comfort and lack of pressure I felt that afternoon, and it was great that football could get us together.

Since the 1990s my interest in football has waned, as the game has become more “branded” and commercial. When Levi’s Stadium was built near my house, there was traffic and game disruption to consider as well. Fortunately it has been relatively easy to work around, although people wanting to visit us have to avoid certain Sundays, or come and go during the game. My biggest concern is for the players and what football does to their bodies and brains, as it is now understood a lot better than previously.

For several years, our next door neighbor was a 49er on the offensive line. From a distance, this nice man looked like a typically large person, until he got closer, when his 6’5″, 325-lb body was frighteningly imposing. His two little boys were predictably enormous for their age. We saw him nurse ankle injuries and other ailments, and before a game I always told him to mind his head. He was sensible, and after being traded to the Arizona Cardinals, he retired, I believe.

On the positive side, football is a fascinating game, and on the negative side, it’s gotten too big for itself, IMHO. But it will be a cultural factor for some time to come.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Marian, I remember the Heidi incident. It is legendary. My husband still talks about it. Also, Brandeis had a football team long before we got there. In my first few years, it tried Club Football, playing against local teams, but it couldn’t even sustain that. It only had intramural football (played with a flag, not tackling) and my husband love that. He was quarterback of the winning team two years running. I don’t think it ever had another competitive team after my sophomore year (1972).

    Extraordinary that you called the quarterback sneak play! No wonder the adults in the room were so impressed! I am too! I love it when my husband says the same thing as the commentators on TV. And I understand very well about the traffic near Levi Stadium, as my daughter lives in San Jose and complains about it. I met Jim Brown once, years ago (speaking of pro football players). He was ENORMOUS. When I shook his hand, it engulfed mine. Now, when I see him on TV, he is wheelchair-bound. You are right, the game takes an enormous toll on their bodies. I understand your mixed feelings.

    • Marian says:

      Betsy, thanks for filling in the details about the Brandeis football team, and that’s cool that your husband was the QB. The physical damage of pro football is sobering. I’ve known two former Raiders who are in constant pain from all their own injuries.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this story, Marian! I’m duly impressed by your early grasp of the game, and even more so by your point spread record, especially insofar as your intuition-based ability to account for body language and other non-statistical “information.” Way to go!

  3. Heidi!! Of course I remember. As well as the aftermath. As broadcasts got longer and longer due to stoppages and commercials it became commonplace that the late afternoon games would interfere with scheduled programming. Wish I had a dime for every time the CBS announcers intoned “Sixty Minutes will be aired in its entirety at the conclusion of the game, except on the West Coast where it will be seen at its usual time.” No intent to memorize it but repetition made it inevitable.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I love this, Marian. Like you, I have a pretty good understanding of the game, and I do remember the Heidi incident. That would never fly today! Your story about sports betting is a hoot, and your strategy makes perfect sense to me.
    I think we agree about how the game has evolved into something designed to injure players. Sad.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Laurie. Yes, can you envision a network cutting off the last two minutes of a game? With all the sports channels and recording options, we can see anything we want, though. Concussions in sports really freak me out. I have had two, not sports related, fortunately relatively minor, and any time I bump my head I get a bit freaked out. I can’t imagine what a football player would experience.

  5. Suzy says:

    Marian, you never cease to amaze me! I love that you predicted the quarterback sneak (and that you even knew what it was), and caused your friend’s father’s pipe to fall out of his mouth! And I love even more that you did so well in the office football pool using your intuition. Too bad the men couldn’t take it. I understand your conflicted feelings about the game now. And I can’t imagine living near Levi’s Stadium. I have only been there once, for a Taylor Swift concert, and we didn’t park there, we were driven by a friend, but when she came to pick us up, it took an hour to get out of the parking lot!

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Suzy, often I operate “against type.” Luckily the way traffic is funneled in and out of Levi’s is from the northeast, and we live on the southwest side. We know where traffic and road closures will be. If we want to go out in the general area, we do it while people are at the game. Dick has gone to some college games and events at Levi’s, and we have figured out a system for getting him there and back. I drive him to the light rail station that’s one stop south of the stadium stop (younger, able-bodied folks could walk it), and he can ride the train right to the game. To come back, he calls me when he gets on the train, rides south one stop, and I can pick him up where there are plenty of places to pull over. If people don’t mind a 15-minute walk, we drive them to an intersection where the roadblocks start, and it’s a few long blocks to the stadium. Afterwards, we pick them up at the same spot. If you ever want to go to an event at Levi’s, let me know and you can use our house as a “home base” for one of these options.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    Loved your story, Marian, especially all the insights about the game itself. (That said, next time a team is close to the goal, try saying, “Well, I think they’re going to fake the sneak, as it is expected, and then the QB will drop back and throw a pass over the middle to the tight end who is uncovered because they thought he’d be blocking for the sneak.” If you’re right, you’re a genius, and, if not, everyone will forget in five minutes. I’ve pulled this trick for years.)
    More seriously, I share all your concerns about the dangers of the game and have significant doubts about whether it should be played at all, at least as a tackle sport. I am very glad that I had daughters.
    And, semi-seriously, I too became a Niners’ fan in the 90’s when they had great teams and my father and step-mother moved to Marin County and started rooting for them. Also, I somehow knew that Brandeis’s nickname for its sports teams was the Judges, and I always loved that. Much cleverer than naming a team after its colors or some sort of ferocious animal.

    • Marian says:

      Great tip, John, about the play. One good thing about being female in this context is that there aren’t any expectations that you “should” know the details about football. I appreciate that I can ask questions, especially about arcane rules, and not feel embarrassed or that my ego is on the line.

  7. Wow, I’m really impressed by all of your football knowledge!

    Shamed to say I’m writing this during the final quarter and am being called from the other room to “come back, dammit and watch the rest of the game.”

    So will go back now with a newfound determination to better appreciate what I’m watching , thanx guys!

  8. Well there’s always a bright side for some – two of our dearest friends here in NY are Kansas City transplants so there’s just been congratulatory emails going back and fourth!

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