Tales of Bittersweet Loyalty

You Have to Start Somewhere

June 29, 2011

I wasn’t raised a sports fan.  I was raised, by my father, to love the New York Giants and thus loathe the Philadelphia Eagles, but I couldn’t tell you anything about the sport. My mother, in an attempt to raise children with less rigid gender roles, enrolled both my brother and I in soccer and ballet.  She figured we would experience different ends of the spectrum and decide for ourselves which suited us better.  Though we participated in both activities, we eventually fell into traditional roles: He competed in soccer and track & field, whereas I continued dancing three to four times a week.  (There is an anecdote about my standing on the soccer pitch, twirling my pigtails; I was quite disinterested.)  I continued not caring about sports for many, many years.

Then, in 2004, I began dating a man who was an ardent Chicago Bears fan.  At the beginning of our relationship, it was easy to avoid the games: Adam would be busy on Sunday afternoons, and I’d find something else to do.  Football gave me an excuse to have boozy brunches with my ladies.  (Though, come to think of it, I probably didn’t need an excuse.)  Once we began cohabiting, though, the NFL was much harder to avoid.  Initially, we struck a bargain: If I received physical attention in the form of cuddling, I’d watch the games with him.  Then the bargain extended to the bar: I’d only come if at least one of my beers was purchased for me and there were wings.  Inadvertently, I started learning about the game.  At the beginning, I would make up meanings for the call gestures: holding wasn’t holding, it was fisting; that’s not a false start, but rather a sign for the bossa nova (time for a dance break)!  The discovery of a new favorite sound made the game even more entertaining: When the rival team attempted a field goal and missed by hitting the posts, the resounding klongggggggg was pure pleasure.  Eventually, I did actually accumulate some knowledge, though I’m still nowhere near the level of my male friends who make the calls before the referees do.

RedEye reporter Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz listed, in a 2007 guest-post on Luis Arroyave’s blog Red Card, five ways to engage your girlfriend in sports.  In her case, the sport in question was soccer, but these tips work across the board.  Elejade-Ruiz nailed it:

1. Take her to a game
2. Take the time to talk to her about the sport
3. Show her photos of the team studs
4. Invite her to join your co-ed team or at least invite her to watch you play
5. Bargain with her

My path to being interested in sports on any level hit each of these marks.  My good friend, Danny, worked for a time on the Major League Soccer website.  That, combined with a trip to Adam’s Chicago family, gave the boys a perfect opportunity to introduce me to soccer.  (I still think it should be called football, as it is everywhere else in the world and is far more accurate.)  As I said before, what I knew of soccer extended to the tips of my braids, but they were committed to changing that.  And what better way than to take me to a live game?  Not just any live game, though: The opening of Chicagoland area’s Toyota Park in June 2006.  When it comes to sports, live games are good, opening days are better and grand openings are best—talk about fanfare!  During the game they gave me insights and explanations on how the game was played (much the same way they would on Sunday afternoons at football bars).  Our seats were not the best in the arena, but from where we were sitting I could see many of the players and quickly developed a crush on Chicago Fire’s lanky Nate Jaqua (now of the Seattle Sounders FC), whom I started referring to as “Naqua.”

Just in that one evening, the boys managed to hit the first three points on Elejalde-Ruiz’s list.  My re-introduction and education in football had already been covered via bargaining, bribery and, though I didn’t mention it before, finding a crush (or two).  But what about that fourth point?  Though New York City is rife with social sports leagues, none of my male friends played football. They did play street hockey, though…

  • from Wikipedia, which is always right:  The rules of football were codified in England by the Football Association in 1863 and the name association football was coined to distinguish the game from the other forms of football played at the time, specifically rugby football. The term soccer originated in England, first appearing in the 1880s as an Oxford “-er” abbreviation of the word “association”.

    Whenever a Brit gets all “you Yanks say it the wrong way” it’s nice to mention that rugby style football, like the kind that got warped and became American football, came first.

    • Thanks, Adam.  I feel much less guilty about having the “Soccer” category now.