Every year before Super Bowl Sunday, my husband files for divorce.
Here's my problem: I want to love football but I can't. It's not in my DNA. I've tried but nothing's worked. "Is it a girl thing?" I asked myself in youth, a "Mom thing?" I ponder now in middle age. There are no easy answers.
Don't get me wrong. I take my affliction seriously.
For years, I've studied footage to see just how the real gals do it. I envy my boisterous, cheering "dressed down" and "dressed up" girlfriends, the wives, lovers, and Moms who pack massive NFL stadiums -- die-hard chicks who support their team in all kinds of insane weather, chugging hot cocoa from thermoses, shouting from seats up in the bleachers, jumping to their feet, and cursing just as foully as their male buddies. So, what's my problem?
Maybe it began in junior high.
In my day, (the '70s) there were no "girl" soccer teams, basketball teams, rugby teams, or Lacrosse teams to join. There was only field hockey. Even at the age of 14, I never understood why we weren't permitted or encouraged to play the same sports as boys. It never seemed fair; as we struggled to protect our shins from getting whacked by hockey sticks our boyfriends got to perform cool, Super-hero feats like putting someone's neck into a "choke hold" and getting down and dirty on all fours.
At games, guys engaged in behaviors we weren't allowed to indulge in (and that most of us had never witnessed) tribal, Cro-Magnon rituals that included forming huddles, grunting and swearing in testosterone-induced, incomprehensible language, and stomping and spitting at just about anyone and everything.
Field hockey seemed like a unique form of punishment. There were similarities, of course, to the other gender -- trying to dodge screaming, angry competitors wielding sticks while pushing a small rubber ball towards an unwieldy goal -- but most of the time, I felt like I was fighting for my life in a teenage zombie movie.
Worse, the entire game was a fashion disaster. Instead of being issued awesome athletic gear -- commanding shoulder pads and space-age helmets that transformed the boys into instant demigods -- we had to wear blue "bloomers" (droopy, diaper-inspired clothing that fell ungracefully to our knees). Try running around in oversized Pampers!
My friends and I were sent off to ballet, a physical discipline deemed appropriate for our gender. Classical dance was intensely grueling and rewarding. But the activity primarily valued individual achievement. Team spirit and ethics weren't exactly nurtured at Ballet School. There was no cheerleading squad and competition for key roles in performances was fierce and ugly despite the delicate pink gauze decorating our tutus.
Similarly, there were no huddles, no words of encouragement given when we winced, bleeding from being "on pointe." Madame Dubois, a weed-thin women from Paris, never said, 'you go girl.'" Despite her waif-like appearance, her scolding in French and Russian was so terrible that dancers burst into tears without understanding either language.
The closest I ever came to playing a team sport was participating, briefly, on the swim team. But how much can you see while doing the 100-meter Freestyle under water?
"Mom, your generation missed the boat, get over it," my daughter Eliza, who was Captain of her all-girls basketball team two years in a row, always tells me. "Those were the old days. It's not like that any more."
Or is it?
But bygones are bygones. The Super Bowl is coming.
I've stepped up my training, started memorizing my playbook. I'm going to become the best NFL fan there is. In football lingo, "every possession has four downs." For me, the first three are easy:
1. Assemble with husband and buddies (families included) in basement.
2. Position dogs at strategic ends of the couch (functioning as warm, sympathetic, snoozing cushions that do not understand the game either).
3) Supply liberal flow of beer and chili (both can be prepared ahead of time)! It's just the dreaded fourth "and inches" that always gets me:
4) Watch Super Bowl from beginning to end -- without making inane comments about linebackers' muscles, the wisdom of their new tattoos, or dreads, and never, never ask, "What just happened?" Similarly, pay equal attention during interminable commercials for trucks that have names of animals -- like "Ram" and "Taurus."
"Honey," my husband asked, fixing the cable on our flat screen TV, "you think you're ready this year? Honestly?"
Do they have a National Field Hockey Playoff?
History: In the 1930s, an unemployed architect named Alfred M. Butts invented a board game that went from "Lexiko", to "Criss Crosswords", to "Scrabble", which eventually stuck. The Gist: While the mobility of "Words With Friends" makes the smart-phone scrabble knock-off highly addicting, round up your friends, a few bottles of wine, and expand your vocabularies together in person by scoring points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a game board marked with a 15-by-15 grid. Get Started: They cost more than a free download, but these vintage Scrabble sets are much easier on the eyes. (Less costly Parker Brothers version at Amazon)
History: According to the World Bunco Association, the dice game was played in England in the 18th century and originally called 8-Dice Cloth. It was later introduced into San Francisco during the Gold Rush by a gambler, who bestowed the name Banco, which evolved into the word "Bunco" and a general term for all scams. During prohibition, the infamous Bunco gambling parlors resurfaced in the US. The Gist: The game consists of six rounds, each with a target number (1-6) which players aim to roll in each around. The object of the game is to roll three dice and accumulate the most "Wins" or "Buncos" (rolling three of a kind of the target number). Get Started: The larger number of players (usually 12) needed makes Bunco great for a "Girls' Night" or a monthly group catch up. Invest in a Bunco kit complete with dice, bell, pencils, and score sheets and rotate who plays hostess.
History: Bridge is a development of the card game "Whist", which was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Bridge is actually the English pronunciation of "Biritch", a Russian trick-taking card game known as, you guessed it, Russian Whist. The Gist: A game of skill and chance and several deals, four players in two competing partnerships progress through four phases: dealing the cards, the auction (or bidding), playing the hand, and scoring the results. Get Started: All you need is a standard deck of 52 cards. For serious players, look into purchasing a bridge size deck with narrower cards allowing for a larger number of cards to be more easily concealed in your hand.
History: Myth credits the creation of the game to Confucius, while historians lean towards the development of an early Ming dynasty card game. Regardless, the game was imported to the US in the 1920s. The Gist: While the use of tiles often leads to the game's mis-grouping as a domino game, Mahjong is more similar to the card game, Rummy. Using a set of 136 tiles based on Chinese characters and symbols, each of four players receive thirteen tiles, drawing and discarding tiles by turn until they complete a legal hand using the fourteenth drawn tile to form four groups and a pair. While there are standard rules for drawing and stealing pieces, there are many variations in the scoring system and the minimum hand needed for a win. Get Started: Unfortunately, a deck of cards won't cut it this time. Add to your conversation pieces and track down your own Mahjong set complete with dice and spare blank tiles.
History: Developed by Ephraim Hertzano in the early 30s, and also known as "Rummy-Q", "Rummycube" and "Rummy Tile", this game is a cornucopia of games, which combines elements of chess, Rummy, Mahjong and dominoes. The Gist: The object of the game is to be the first player to place all the tiles from your rack onto the table, through timed turns, making sets and avoiding penalties. Various "manipulations" of tiles players lay down adds excitement and keeps the game fast-paced. Get Started: Pick up Rummikub on your next Target run.
Follow Rachael Stark on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rachaelstark52