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Prompted By Super Bowl

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To me, football looks like huge men pretending to play tag but actually trying to kill each other.

Okay, so I’m not exactly a sports fan. When I dated, I’d get that out of the way early on to avoid disappointment down the line. My husband, Garth, does follow sports, but he’s not a true fanatic — let’s not forget that’s where the word “fan” comes from — he’s more of a gear-head from the standpoint of Southern California’s car and motorcycle culture . . . speed, performance, design, craftsmanship, that kind of thing, which I happen to appreciate as well. I even accompany him to hot rod and vintage car shows, and drag races — a sport where, let me point out, the vehicles are big enough that I can actually see what’s going on.

Because in most sports, particularly those involving a ball, even a football, I can’t follow what’s going on. Because I can’t see the frigging ball most of the time. Okay, except for basketball. I can see the basketball pretty much all the time. But golf? Forget about it. Tennis? Nope. Baseball? Seriously? Whoever came up with the phrase “keep your eye on the ball” must have had bowling in mind.

In football, it seems like they’re purposely hiding the ball. I mean, I get the basics of the game, two teams playing — well, fighting to get past each other so they can get touchdowns and whoever scores the most points wins, but the rules are surprisingly complicated. Try as I might, should I happen to be in front of the TV when a game is on (good sport that I am), it’s not long before I’m lost and falling into a stupor when what to my wondering eyes should appear but freehand doodles, diagrams, and magic marks . . . on the screen. Genius! It’s kind of like “Football for Dummies.” Now I toss in comments like, ”There he goes!” or “That was a great run,” or “Yay, first down,” so it sounds like I’m actually interested. And sometimes I even chant, “First and ten, do it again, we like it, we like it,” a cheer I heard at a high school football game and for some reason it stuck, except that I always said “first in ten” until Garth corrected me last year. And I listen to the announcer for hints, kind of like when you’ve forgotten someone’s name, then hear someone else use it, and then you work it into the conversation as if you knew it. “Stop the clock, out of bounds!”

There are aspects of football I like. I admire the trust and camaraderie and even the toughness of football players. And they ARE tough, with pain thresholds through the roof! If I reach for my coffee cup the wrong way, my back goes out. If I drop my hairbrush on my foot, I bruise and limp.

I do like the sound of a football game on TV in a sports bar or any room filled with men releasing all that testosterone in a nice, safe way. I’m not sure what the equally ardent female fans are releasing. But sometimes the energy does seem to teeter on the edge of violence, and all that yelling and whooping and hollering and fist pumping and chest bumping and back thumping in a confined space kind of scares me. I understand winning and losing; I just don’t get the intensity of the emotion. Where does that come from? Because while I’m sincerely happy for the winners (and the family members to whom they will go home), I’m equally sad for the losers (and the family members to whom they will go home). I worry about them.

Of course I do enjoy the souped up commercials and halftime show the Super Bowl is famous for, half hoping for a wardrobe malfunction or something unexpected to happen. And as a word nerd I’m quick to use football references like dropping the ball, Monday morning quarterbacking, and out of bounds to make a point, but that’s really pretty much the extent of my interest.

Well, okay, there’s one more thing: I like the excuse to make immature jokes about tight ends and wide receivers.

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

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Tags: football, sports
Characterizations: been there, funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Barbara, you’ve captured much of the world’s reaction to football quite well. Except for true students of the game, I think you are right there with the rest of them, sort of vaguely understanding the point and waiting for the good commercials, hoping that those huge beings don’t really hurt one another. And yes, they do seem to have an incredible pain threshold. I agree, it can be difficult to actually follow the action (was that a fake or a hand-off, where did the ball go?). And I agree, I hate the chest pounding. It seems so barbaric, really.

  2. I’m with you Barbara!

    And if you’ve seen the film Concussion with Will Smith you’ll be reminded of how the NFL’s profit motive, as well as human hubris out-wins medical truths.

    Years ago I asked the surgeon who operated on my broken ankle and happened to be a sports doc, what he thought of football.

    Much to their chagrin, I won’t let my three sons play, he said.

  3. Marian says:

    You’re right, Barbara, about the level of understanding that most people have about football. There probably is a real “Football for Dummies” book. The sports that really interest me are the ones that I’ve actually played. Dick and I do watch the major tennis tournaments, and I enjoy the occasional swim meet that’s televised. I still haven’t figured out how to get fencing during the Olympics (great sport, by the way), and the martial arts of Kendo and Naginata aren’t televised in the US but are revered in Japan (definitely the hardest sports I’ve ever tried).

  4. Hear, hear about enjoying, or not enjoying, or avoiding, or immersing in, the game of football. Each to his/her own. While there is much to be disturbed about, particularly in the professional game – CTE, off-field behavioral problems and the like, there are occasionally some inspiring developments. One of this year’s team, the SF 49ers, have a coach, Katie Sowers, who is the first full-time woman coach in the NFL. She also happens to be gay. From what I have read she is totally accepted by all concerned on the team. It’s about what she brings to the table.

    • Copying and pasting part of my comment on Laurie’s post which is awaiting approval: What I love so much about MyRetrospect is getting all these different takes on one prompt! And now, Tom, learning about Katie Sowers. After this last week, it’s just what I needed…hope for the future.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    So funny, Barbara. I love the way you describe following the ball. Like you, I need those lines and replays. At least in hockey, which I almost never watch, I think they light up the puck on TV. When I have watched actual games in person (very rare and mostly at college), I have no idea what is happening. At Michigan, football was/is a huge deal but I mostly enjoyed the marching band and it was a great way to pick up guys.

  6. Suzy says:

    Great story, Barbara. My favorite line is your first one, about huge men pretending to play tag but actually trying to kill each other. That’s so perfect, I wish I had thought of it! I love all the rest of your discussion of not understanding or being able to follow football – as you know from reading my story, we are kindred spirits in that regard. Glad you also feel the same as I do about the commercials and the halftime show, which are clearly the best part of the game. And you made me laugh out loud with your last line about immature jokes!

  7. John Shutkin says:

    Barbara, I loved your true outsider’s view of football. Most of us guys, even if not fanatic fans (pardon the redundancy you pointed out), are so well versed in the intricacies of the game that we never step back to analyze it from a Square 1 standpoint — i.e., what the hell are all those guys doing, anyway. And why.
    Incidentally, if you think following a ball is hard (except maybe a basketball), try watching a hockey puck. Despite having watched hockey on TV for years, I often joke (as have others) that I have never actually seen a puck go in the net in real time. Typically, there is a huge scramble of bodies and sticks in front of the goal and then suddenly the red lights go on above the goal and one team is raising its sticks in triumph. That’s it.

    • OK, John. You prompt a trivia question: what is the origin of “Square One”? Hint: it has something to do with sports.

    • I’ve been to only one hockey game, and loved watching the guys sweeping the ice and Zamboni machine. The puck? What’s that?

      And now I remember my son also played high school lacrosse. The only thing I remember about watching those games was praying he wouldn’t suffer a fatal blow from one of those sticks or those very hard balls.

      Now tennis, there’s a civilized sport!

  8. Beautifully written, with a great spin on this wild sport. I forbad my son from playing football when he was in JHS and suggested soccer as an alternative. In the first game he broke his collarbone!

    • Thanks, Sara! Sometimes you just can’t win, right?! I compare sports to natural disasters…no matter where you go, something’s bound to get you sooner or later. (Just kidding, my sweet sports fanatics…just kidding!) 🙂

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