Football! Just that word congers images of stadiums full of loud, screaming fans doing the wave and chanting fight songs and cheers and tailgate parties and beer and cheerleaders in skimpy outfits and big, brawny men in tight, padded, colorful uniforms. It is a uniquely American event (Canada is in North America, so they count) that many of our European friends don’t understand. They think our football is a joke compared to their football (which we call soccer), but the joke must be on them, because I doubt their country has as much money invested in the sport as the NFL earns in rights assignments alone. But I don’t want to get into money or the league.
I just want to talk about football. The game. The Big Game. The game that fans actually allocate time to watch. People set schedules around the kickoff. Vacations are planned with home team home stands in mind. People make college choices based on the football program and even decide on where to live based on the team representing the city. I actually heard someone say that they couldn’t move to a city that didn’t have a professional football team. People paint their faces and bodies with their team colors just to sit home and watch the game on the TV—speaking of which, people invest thousands of dollars for the latest start-of-the-art HDTVs just to watch the big game.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not a big football fan. Actually, I’m not much of a sports fan at all. Believe it or not, I can take it or leave it. I don’t follow the stats, I don’t even follow the scores or the bowl races. I know the names of the marquee players only because they are in the news (for whatever reason be it drugs, rape, felony convictions). No, I don’t care about most teams at all, but I do follow the Home teams. The Astros (if they are in the pennant race) the Rockets (if they are winning) and the Texans (as long as I don’t watch them). In fact, I can’t watch any sporting event if I care about the outcome—and that is the real reason I’m not a fan.
When I was a little kid, oh maybe 10 or 11, I was at school and trying (maybe a little too hard) to fit in. The guys I wanted to hang out with were standing around at recess talking football. Now, I had played PeeWee league football with the youth association teams (which consisted of sitting on the bench most of the time and running where I was told to run the few times I was allowed on the field) but I did not know anything about football. I didn’t know the whole series-of-downs paradigm (what was a first down and why was it better than a fourth?), I didn’t know what a safety was, nor did I understand touchback. I did know that a touchdown was a good thing, but why was it 6 points instead of 1?
Well, you can see that trying to worm into a conversation with this level of expertise was a futile gesture, but I was not to be dissuaded. They were talking about the upcoming weekend’s matchup between the Cowboys of Dallas and the Pittsburg Steelers. One young man was saying that the Steelers were favored to win while another was saying that Roger Staubach could beat the Steelers blindfolded. Now I knew that Dallas was in Texas and Texas had cowboys and I preferred to be a cowboy rather than an Indian since Indians got shot, and all I knew about Pittsburg was that it was on the east coast and I’d never lived anywhere close to there.
So, I chimed in and said with an authority that belied my experience that the Cowboys would surely beat the Steelers easily. Well, you can only imagine the conversation as it went from there. “Nu-uh. Uh-huh. Nu-uh. Uh-huh,” ad nauseum until the fateful words leapt from the young man’s mouth: “Wanna Bet?” Well, I was no pushover, but then again, I was no Kenny Rodgers either. “What?”
“I bet five dollars that the Steelers beat the Cowboys.” Let me take a second to put that in context. This game was Superbowl 10. In 1976, 5 dollars was roughly equivalent to 20 bucks today. To an 11-year-old, it might as well be a hundred. So, needless to say, I took the bet. I didn’t have the money and I didn’t understand gambling, so it was a chance to get five dollars; more importantly, it was a chance to be accepted.
That was the first football game I actually watched from start to end that I actually cared who won. It was the first game that I followed play by play, even though I didn’t understand the intricacies of the game. It was the game that taught me many lessons about sports, games, football and gambling. In case you were wondering, the Cowboys lost that game when Roger Staubach threw an end-zone interception as time expired; and more importantly, I lost that bet.
I was devastated. How could I face those guys at school? And more importantly, where was I going to get five dollars? Thankfully, my mother loaned me the five, and something happened at school that I didn’t expect. I could actually talk about the game with these guys. I remembered the plays (though I didn’t know the players other than Staubach and Bradshaw) and could discuss the game with some knowledge.
Later in life, I became a fan of the Oilers, which was an exercise in frustration. Though they had a superbowl-caliber team with Dan Pastorini and Earl Campbell, they never won the conference championship, despite three consecutive visits to the game. Now that I follow the Texans, it becomes clear that I cannot watch a game—any game—if I care about the outcome. Whenever I do, the team I am rooting for will invariably lose. I watched Arkansas play LSU and though it was a riveting game, the Razorbacks lost in overtime. My wife Michelle and I spent three hours yelling at the screen and Michelle dutifully hollered “Wooo-pig Sooie” at each kick-off. I am certain that, had we not watched, they would have emerged victorious.
So, I don’t watch sports and I don’t get invested in them—either emotionally or financially. It is not that I am an anti-sports nerd, but I just don’t want to spend that much of my time worrying about the outcome. So, if the Vikings play The Eagles, so what? If the Rockets are eliminated from playoff contention, who cares? Once I care about who wins, I will be tempted to watch, and then I have just ensured their loss.