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?