Sep 14, 2010


Dumb at football. That’s me. Though, maybe not for long.

But, no, actually, this notion has made me a fibber already. I’m not really dumb, of course. Not literally, not partially, not even a bit. What I am, though, is underexposed as a mofo to football.

Other than golf, I didn’t grow up in a sports house. The sports I did watch, I watched solo. I conceptualized each as a quiet something one does. (How many times have you been to a Ryder Cup or Masters Tournament party? Yeah. That’s what I thought. If golf if the sport that brings you to the party, you tend to have a solitary approach to watching sports. You also end up with a non-shouting, prissily-mannered approach. So it goes.) Sports didn’t initially register to me as something social or as something to be discussed and about which one can hypothesize.

I like sports. I watch games, usually with friends and usually in bars, keeping tabs on the score, aware of the major moments, aware of the major players. I go to games. I have been to countless baseball games and hockey games when I can and love both. I love the pumped up crowd, the precision of world-class athletes doing the things they do best. I love to see a close game, a landslide victory, a good game. I watch sports when puttering around the house. I have iPhone apps to keep me on top of (usually golf) scores.

Admittedly, the perspective I needed in order to make game predictions and even the simplest of water cooler talk eluded me. I was better than that. I wasn’t some goofy puck bunny, some ball-girl groupie. I simply came into the sports world with an understated, solitary-processing stance. Sports weren’t discussed, sports were observed, watched, enjoyed, experienced.

But not discussed. From my starting point, everyone could see the leaderboard as well as the next guy, so why on earth would we discuss what we could each plainly see?

And then I became a radio host.

I co-host ChicagoNow Radio with Alex Quigley on News 720 WGN on Saturday mornings. Each half hour or so, we change topics completely to rise to the news of the day. And at least once a show, we talk about sports. Which was fine until football season rolled around. And I knew I was effed.

Hockey-talk and baseball-talk was challenging (again with the whole sports-are-for-observing mindset as a jumping off point) but I managed fine. But, football? Oy to the vey, I was in trouble.

Football is it’s own beast, in my opinion. While I unlocked hockey and baseball and tennis just by watching and taking it in, football always felt exclusive. To understand what was happening in football, one already needed to know what was happening in football. One needs perspective, history, explanation, a stripped-down explanation of the fundamentals of the game. Football, I would argue, can’t really be understood just by watching. Trust me, I have tried. One needs fundamentals, one needs background. Baseball is organized and flowing, hockey is easy to follow because one need only watch what the players are watching to follow the game. But football? Everyone seemed to have their own job, each a task at hand. Not everyone is looking at the football. In fact, most players are looking at the giant dude in front of them. The ball snaps and suddenly there is individualized action everywhere, and to know where to look is only through background knowledge. No fair, football. No fair.

But, I want to crack the code, and I want to do it on my own. I have taken on every sport in that way, and this is the way that I know. But, football being the mystifying game that it is, I reached the limits of what I could do on my own. Time to actively start looking for help.

There are countless books on the subject. But, again, they either assume the reader already has a general understanding of the game of football, or far worse, than one seeks and understanding of the game not to understand the game but to be close to a partner. Barf. My lack of sports geekery and context wasn’t about being female and it sure wasn’t about picking up men. It was, again, about lacking the social, fundamental and contextual perspective on sports by which to discuss it rather than just observe it.

With some top-notch help, and a trail-by-fire, learn-by-doing approach, I’ve chosen this football season to mend my ways. And, to up the ante for myself, I’ve decided to blog the whole thing.

I have no idea if I will ever be able to shake the ways my golfing roots cause me to look at sports (or if I even want to). I may never change my quieter approach to sports(wo)manship or the ways in which I watch sports in my home, in a bar, in a stadium. But, being one to face my shortcomings head-on rather than suppress them, here goes. At the very least, it should make for more interesting radio.

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