44% of football fans are now women. I proudly count myself among this group. Recently, a friend of mine said, "I refuse to watch millionaires chase a ball around." So I tried to explain why I watch. I tried to how I fell in love with game the year the Colts won the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. I explained how the talking heads all counted him out of the post-season that year, saying he just couldn't play in the post-season even though his team just had a great year. Their dismissal of him, this person so obviously capable in his sport to me, an outsider, struck me as odd and unfair. Watching him prove them wrong that year sealed the deal for me. I become a Peyton Manning fan, and then a Colts fan, and now a football fan. I like the stats, I read the websites, I listen to sports radio. I don't play fantasy football. Not yet.
But what I couldn't explain to my friend about my love of the game hit me this weekend. It isn't camaraderie of talking football with other fans or eating awesome snacks on Sunday afternoon on the sofa with my family. It's about the stories of the game and about how the odds are just that -- probabilities, not facts. The odds, which set the line on which so much money from sports betting rides, are carefully crafted, computer-driven models; a lot of time, effort and money goes into the setting of those lines. For example, eople went into this weekend knowing for sure that the Denver Broncos would beat the Ravens.
But these odds didn't take into account the intangibles. In this case, the biggest intangible was the spirit of Ray Lewis to inspire his team. Lewis has played with the Ravens since 1996. Earlier in the season, he tore his triceps -- what was thought to be a season-ending injury, a career-ending injury for a controversial player known both for his legal troubles and for being one of the most religious men in the NFL. Here's where the first intangible comes in. Lewis' injury did not end his career. In Raven's first post-season game, Lewis returned to dance out of the tunnel in Baltimore one last time and lead his team to victory over the Colts. No one thought he would be able to return to the game, let alone play at the exceptional level he did.
And like Peyton Manning, the talking heads and Vegas oddmakers discounted Lewis' strength after his injury and thought he wouldn't be able repeat that performance in the game against Denver. But they were wrong; he did. They didn't take into account the spirit of Ray Lewis and his ability to inspire his team through his energy, his spirit, his pending retirement and his outspoken religious faith. Whatever combination Lewis called on, it worked. The Ravens defeated the Broncos. And even though I love Peyton and this loss stings, this is why I watch football. People cannot be defined by odds or talking heads.
Even the comeback story that Peyton Manning, the Mac Book of the NFL, brings to the field also shows just how wrong the odds can be. After three neck surgeries, being traded from the team that drafted him and years of playing a physically demanding sport, many wrote Peyton off. A rocky start to the season added to this list of concerns. But seeing him come back from what could be considered a dark night of the soul with both grace and determination, winning week after week at the end of the season, even breaking a Broncos consecutive win record, keeps me glued to the game. It is this smashing of the odds, the defying of the worldly fates that pronounce this or that should happen, that remind me of the power of the human spirit. We cannot be defined by number or percentages; we can be so much more than that. Maybe it's as Raven's coach Jim Harbaugh said, "There's a spirituality in here."
So, that's one reason why I watch football. Why do you?
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