For most of my life, the ancient and All-American rite of football has been somewhat of a mystery to me. Akin to calculus or biochemistry, it’s something I know exists, just not something I’ve ever had the slightest idea how to master nor any sort of burning desire to do so. I’ve been perfectly content to let almost twenty-two years go by without ever really wondering about the sport. Sure, I’ve watched the requisite Super Bowl games during the attendant Super Bowl parties, but as any college student knows, such celebrations don’t usually involve much actual football watching.
That’s why, when my boyfriend invited me to join an afternoon of football-focused male bonding, I was more anxious than excited. Would I be able to follow the game? Would I be able to relate to a bunch of guys getting all excited about passing and punting? Would I be able to keep up with the consumption of beer? And, most importantly, would I be able to keep a straight face during all that hardcore homo-social bonding? Suffice it to say, I was more than a little nervous.
But I was also very excited. While football was never really a big deal where I grew up water polo and swimming, with just a hint of basketball, were much more important in the Malibu of my youth it is still something significant for the larger society in which I live. It’s as American as apple pie and all that. Plus, I’ve spent most of college living with some pretty die-hard football fanatics, who just happen to have structured entire Sunday afternoons around that little leather ball. I guess I always knew that, eventually, I would have to actually sit through all four quarters of a football game.
That’s why, last Sunday morning, I dragged my derrire to Woodstock’s, plopped myself and my massive latte down in one of their little wooden booths, and settled in for some serious sports viewing. Of course, I only lasted a quarter. After the first twenty minutes, the fact that we had rushed out of bed without taking the time to shower started to bother me, and I decided that I could sacrifice some of my football-watching fun for the sake of washing up and changing out of my pajama pants.
But I did manage to get cleaned up in time to catch the last two quarters of the game. And I even understood most of what was happening, thanks to a long lecture from my boyfriend and his roommate. In the end, I ended up actually enjoying myself quite a bit. Of course, that could have had something to do with the big box of beers we consumed during the game, but I’d like to think it also has a whole lot to do with the company, the atmosphere and, surprisingly enough, the activity. Little did I know that when I came to college a self-righteous drama geek with a penchant for poetry and a deep-seated disdain for all things All-American that I would find myself having so much fun simply watching sports.
I guess it just goes to show that, no matter how many years you’re in college, you never can tell what new experiences you can find yourself enjoying. After almost four years here at UCSB, I thought I had already pretty much cemented a series of activities I enjoyed - and activities I would rather not waste my precious few hours of free time doing. But, once again, I found myself completely surprised by something I never knew could be so satisfying. Keeping an open mind, and forcing myself to find the fun in an activity that it would have been very easy for me to reject outright during its first few minutes actually paid off in a way I never could have imagined. I finally found myself bonding with my boyfriend’s friends over something other than the fact that we both enjoy his company, and I felt like I found myself fitting in with all the other Isla Vistans sporting Chargers jerseys as they proudly pranced around town during half-time.
I understood where they were coming from, or at least what they had spent the past few hours doing, and there was a comforting camaraderie in overhearing strangers saying the same things about San Diego that my boyfriend and his friends were. I’ve never been one for doing things just to fit in, but by that same token, finally feeling some connection to the sheer surfeit of people celebrating a simple sporting match in the streets of our small town last Sunday made me feel good - like I was a part of something slightly bigger than our beach-side enclave. Even if that thing was “just a game” - a phrase I found myself repeating to my boyfriend, a San Diego native, many times after the Chargers lost.
When it comes down to it, people take pride in sporting events because of that feeling of community. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who really loves a sport simply because of its respective rules, its arbitrary point-procuring systems or the particular shape of its ball, puck, or other point-scoring object. I think, when all is said and done, the allure of a good game is about more than that. It’s about coming together with friends, neighbors, or even strangers who show up to try and sell you subscriptions to the Newspress - as one unfortunate soul did during our Sunday afternoon festivities - around a common activity. And, even though making myself participate in something so far from my comfort zone was hard at first, it was pretty clear, after the first few minutes of Sunday’s match, that nobody was there to judge me for my juvenile grasp on the game.
As uncomfortable as the situation may have been at first, forcing myself to try something new was totally worth it in the long run. It’s a lesson that I can never learn too many times, and one that is all too easy to forget as you near your fourth year in college and become even more fixed in your comfort zone. And it’s one that I will be sure to take with me as we near the Super Bowl and all the attendant activities. Maybe this year, I might make it through a couple quarters of the actual game. And, if all else fails, at least now I know a few guys I can get some good play-by-play from on the big day.