Girls and Football
I’ve never quite found a way to explain the appeal of college football to people who have to have such things explained to them in the first place. If you see “SEC” in a headline and immediately think, “Oh, a story about the Securities and Exchange Commission,” then you and I are better off talking about something safe like politics, at least on Saturday afternoons in the fall.
Maybe you have to have had a warm bourbon-and-coke or two poured down your back in the student section of a major college stadium at a tender age. Maybe you have to have had a mother like mine who explained football long before she tackled the birds and the bees. (“The team with the ball gets four tries to make 10 yards. That’s a first down.”) Maybe you have to be Southern. Or lacrosse-deprived.
Unless we had brothers, most women I know didn’t grow up playing football. And unless we were perky, we didn’t make the cheerleading squad. (I lost out on both counts: no brothers, no perk.) But a lot of us developed an unabashed love for the whole Saturdays-in-autumn spectacle that has stayed with us, surviving everything from the demands of grown-up life to earnest lectures from well-meaning friends on the excesses of collegiate athletics.
I don’t know the game with the authority of someone who has actually caught a pass or blocked a punt or sent a 250-pound defender sprawling. I’m pretty thin on offensive strategy and I’m lousy at reading coverage. But I love it all – the action on the field, sure, but also the rivalries, the rituals, the fans, the tailgating, the noise, the whole package. I love to be there in the stands, sweltering through steamy early-season contests or shivering through late-in-the-schedule games when “football weather” loses its golden glow. I’m even happy watching at home on TV, as long as I can turn the sound down on the announcers du jour and listen to Larry Munson calling the game.
I’m not sure my football-mentor single mother was motivated by any great passion for the game itself. But she felt very strongly that women who were ignorant on the subject were at a great disadvantage in the business world. If you couldn’t gripe with conviction at the office water cooler on Monday morning about the offsides penalty the officials failed to call on Saturday, you were very likely doomed to girl-work and girl-pay, she reasoned. You didn’t want to be over in the corner swapping lasagne recipes when the good assignments were handed out.
I never rose to my mother’s level of understanding of the game. She had a good feel for strategy. (She was also a natural athlete – basketball in high school and college and badminton as a young woman. I don’t have an athletic bone in my body.) But I think I have surpassed her in just plain loving football. Maybe the difference was that she didn’t have the benefit of spending four fall quarters in Athens, as I did.
But I made my mother proud, I’m happy to say, fairly early in my working life, by breaking the office football-pool gender barrier. I threatened to file a sex-discrimination complaint – in jest, actually, but I’m not sure anybody got the joke – if I wasn’t allowed to participate in the weekly bet-a-thon. Reluctantly the guys let me in, snickering while I filled out my ballot and handed over my five bucks. They thought my selections were “cute” and worried aloud about “stealing” my lunch money.
We were all astonished when the Monday morning tally indicated that I had won – big. It was part bluster and part beginner’s luck. But I took their money with a smile on my face.
Unfortunately, I never repeated that feat. I didn’t win for the rest of the season; but I never again had to ask for admission to the pool. A ballot showed up on my desk every Wednesday or Thursday.
But it got better. That same season, which happened to fall during the Herschel Walker Era, I made a bet with my boss, a University of Tennessee fan: If Georgia beat UT, he’d buy breakfast for the office. If Georgia lost, I’d buy. The following Monday I arrived at the office to find a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts on my desk and my boss’s door closed. Everything about that day was sweet.