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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chapter 1. What's Love Got to Do With It?

by Bob Andelman

"We were in Chicago for a wedding in 1984 and just happened to be booked at the same hotel that the Chicago Bears were staying at. We rode up in the elevator with four or five of the Bears. Walter Payton was particularly outgoing and he talked to my daughter, who was about 2, and asked if he could hold her. He threw her up in the air and caught her and that was a real magic moment for me. While I'm sure Walter Payton wouldn't remember that 10 minutes after it happened, it certainly was a defining moment for me. I'll never forget it. From that moment forward whenever Walter Payton had a great day I was able to feel like he was a good friend of mine."
Dr. Rick Weinberg
Clinical psychologist
University of South Florida, Tampa

Men love a lot of things: Mom. America. Big dogs. Hardware stores.

And football.

Football puts the bite on us for four quarters and tosses us around like a terrier taunting a live catch. We're in its teeth, up in the air, on our backs. We're being shaken, not stirred. It's the ride of our lives and we haven't even left the living room couch.

Somehow, we're both Troy Aikman going back to throw the pigskin and Emmitt Smith leaping high on the 2-yard-line to catch the ball and landing in the end zone. We're doing the dance, slapping high- and low-fives.

Sometimes we're on the sidelines, playing coach, barking plays to the defense. Don't get caught deep! Look for the sneak! Don't let 'em get outside!

If a guy can't be on the field playing or coaching football, the second-best thing is to be in the stands or on the couch, watching. Our egos are so tied to sports that if we can't be playing, we want to watch. (We're like that when it comes to sex, too, if you hadn't noticed.)

Any bored and angry woman who's ever glared in futility at a man glued to a divisional playoff game knows this. Just listen to what we say: "Yes! Yes!! YES!!!" or "Aw, SHIT! GODDAMNMOTHERFRIGGIN-SONUVABITCH!DAMNITALLTOHELLICAN'TBELIEVEIT!" Or watch our body language, the way our hands instinctively reach out to snag a pass or scoop up a fumble, the way we pull at an imaginary helmet to signal a face mask violation.

We don't just watch football. We live it.
Super Play Action Football
We become a part of the action, spending three hours every Sunday afternoon and Monday night on a rocket ride with the stars.

There is some envy at work here, too, because we say to each other or ourselves, "Oh, God, would I love to do that!" Or, "I could play that position as well as that guy!"

In football, we see people beat and tackled. For some of us, aggression is part of it. But it's really a matter of personal glory. We'd desperately like to do the end zone shuffle after a touchdown.

Take Roger Brummett, for example. He's vice president of marketing for a human resources management firm in Carmel, Indiana. He played ball in high school, tried out in college as a walk-on and blew out his knee. A good stake in his devotion to the Indianapolis Colts stems from his dreams of what could have been.

"It's a game that if I could have, I would have played all my life," Brummett says. "I mean, why do even bad golfers play every weekend? There's something that stirs their competitive nature. Watching those games on Sundays is an association of a dream that lets us reach out and touch a venue we would have liked to have participated in."

Psychologists talk about it in terms of transference. Players look in the stands and see fans with fingers up in the air, saying, "We're No. 1! We're No. 1!"

"There is a phrase that sometimes is used -- 'The whistle never blew'," says Dr. Robert L. Arnstein, retired chief psychiatrist of Yale University Health Services. "The implication is that the whistle never blew in a player's final game and he has gone through life playing the game over and over again. Supposedly one of the Yale football coaches once said that, 'You are going out to play Harvard in 10 minutes and never again will you ever do anything so important in your life'."

We see football differently than other sports. Football portrays us the way we are. Aggressive, action-oriented, manipulative. Baseball, on the other hand, portrays the way we think we once were or that we would like to be. Thoughtful, deliberate, patient. Boring.

"The question is not really why people like football," says Dr. Allen L. Sack, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the sports management program at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. "It is, why are men more involved in it? Men and women are involved in a wide variety of other activities but here is one that is primarily male. It is the biggest sport in the U.S. that is for men only -- little boys only. When those little boys grow up they are a built-in market for professional football.

"In terms of participation," he says, "it is little boys that are more likely to be involved or to think about football than little girls. I think that men in their 40s and mid-life can look back and remember what it was like for them to be involved in the game. They can appreciate some of the nuances that other people -- including most women -- may not."

All men come to their football obsession differently. There are at least 20 reasons spelled out in the following pages, connecting our love of the game to everything from the influence of our fathers (Chapter 3: "Cat's in the Cradle") and the need for male bonding (Chapter 9: "Every Picture Tells a Story") to military training (Chapter 8: "Achtung, Baby") and beer commercials (Chapter 20: "Bud Bowling for Dollars").

Some of us prefer the thrill of seeing the game in person (Chapter 17: "Two Tickets to Paradise"), while others content themselves with a TV, a well-stocked refrigerator and the comfort of their own home (Chapter 18: "57 Channels").

Men drive women away from football by our symbiotic link to the sport. We don't want to explain the sport, even to those females who might be actually learn it. It's the last thing on this chauvinistic planet that's still exclusively ours, damn it, ours! Women can't play it and we're not going to encourage you to start. (Chapter 21: "She's No Lady, She's My Wife.")

Not that we don't love the women in our lives. We certainly do. But sometimes a man wants to get his piece of the action in a different way. Football provides a multitude of means: hero worship (Chapter 5: "A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich"), violence (Chapter 11: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"), skill (Chapter 12: "Fly Like An Eagle"), statistics (Chapter 14: "Odds 'n Sods"), gambling (Chapter 15: "You Better, You Bet"), escapism (Chapter 20: "The Man Who Fell to Earth").

But above all else, football is about the dreams and aspirations of boys (Chapter 2: "Boy's Life"), the way our jaws go slack in awe of spectacular feats of physical daring and courage, the way we gape in wide-eyed wonderment at seeing the best athletes strap on the pads and kick some ass.

That's why we love football.

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