Football observations from a new fan

(this column ran in The Daily Union, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2003)
(When I started at The Daily Union I was laying out sports pages. Thus, I learned a lot more about sports than I ever had before and I decided to share that knowledge in a column I wrote before the Super Bowl. Since this is almost three years old, some of the players I mention play for different teams now. But don’t ask me which ones.)

By Linda Gilmore

I haven’t always been a big football fan.

It’s something that’s grown on me over the years.

Before I came to The Daily Union in August, football was a once or twice a year event. Like many of you, the only football game you could count on me moderately caring about was the Super Bowl. To a devout football fan, that was kind of like those people who only go to church on Christmas Eve or Easter.

But since August, when I started laying out sports pages, I’ve learned a lot more about football and have gotten more interested in it.

So with today being Super Bowl Sunday, and the football season almost over, I’ve been reflecting on what I have picked up this season.

• Football players are huge. Remember William “The Refrigerator” Perry? He played for the Chicago Bears in the mid-1980s. He topped 300 pounds. I remember watching him pick up Walter Payton, who had the ball, and toss him over the goal line for a touchdown. The refs said that wasn’t allowed, but I thought it was cool. Now, all the football players are that big, or even bigger. And they’re in better shape, too. The Raiders’ offensive line not only has a refrigerator, it’s got all the major appliances, and they move fast. I think quarterbacks are incredibly brave because they have to hold their ground while all these 300-pound guys are coming after them.

• I don’t understand football logic. Probably the strangest thing to me is when the line of scrimmage is only a few feet from the first down line or the goal line, and the ball carrier tries to run through all those 300-pound guys — on purpose. Ball carriers are usually a lot smaller than the linebackers. So why do they do this? Why don’t they run away, or at least run around them? They don’t. Instead they try to plow into the whole mass of bodies. Sometimes the ball moves enough for the first down or the touchdown, but not often. Football teams keep using those kinds of plays anyway.

• Being a fan is strange. What makes someone a fan of a particular team, anyway? Sometimes it’s obvious. People root for the teams in their home city or from nearby cities. Thus my husband, who grew up in Akron, Ohio, has always had a soft spot for teams from Cleveland. But I root for the Bears, and I’ve never lived in Chicago. Now I also root for the Chiefs, but I’ve never been to a Chiefs game, and Arrowhead Stadium isn’t even in Kansas. The Bears and Chiefs don’t really win a lot of games these days. But I like them anyway. I refuse to be like my son Joel who only roots for the team that’s winning. Maybe I like teams that lose. I like the Cubs, too.

People express their fandom in extreme ways. There were female Eagles fans in the stands Sunday wearing green bikini tops. I’m sure I heard the announcer say that at game time in Philadelphia it was 26 degrees. If I had a Chiefs jersey, I’d wear it, but that’s probably about as far as my enthusiasm would go. The most fanatic of Raiders fans have a section of the stadium called the Black Hole. There they exercise their enthusiasm for the game in costume and probably with lots of beer. By the way, the word fan comes from fanatic. It makes sense.

• Football players have great names. I’m not sure why this happens, but a lot of athletes, not just football players, have names that seem especially well-suited to their sport. My favorite is Peerless Price, who plays for the Buffalo Bills. He was destined for greatness, or at least for the NFL, with the name Peerless. Priest Holmes is another great name, and he’s a great guy by all accounts. And he’s certainly a great football player.

Quarterbacks often seem to have good names for their position — short, decisive names that fit well on the back of the jersey. Joe Namath, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Trent Green, Rich Gannon, Brett Favre. These are good names for quarterbacks. I’m sure Kliff Kingsbury, from Texas Tech, will be an NFL quarterback some day, but I wonder about his name.

• I can now spell Buccaneers. I can also spell Cincinnati without having to look it up every time. I’m not sure, but I think the Bucs made it to the Super Bowl just so I’d have to spell Buccaneers a few more times.

• Football games have great commercials. Even if I started to doze off during a Sunday afternoon game, I would wake up for the commercials. I especially liked the NFL/United Way commercials this year. They showed football players volunteering, but they always had a little comic twist like the football player getting stuck in the slide or the football player having to sit in time out. The IBM business solutions commercials have been good, too. These ads featured things like magic business binoculars or other impossible gadgets.

• Football is a sport meant to be played in the elements. Baseball gets rained out, but football never gets rained (or snowed or iced or fogged) out. There’s something inspiring about watching the players battle not only the opposing team but the forces of nature. The elements separate the faithful fans from the fair-weather fans. I wish the Super Bowl was played someplace where it would snow during the game. If the game is so super, let’s see them play in Duluth, Minn., instead of warm, sunny San Diego.

Even though my family thinks it’s hilarious that I’m laying out sports pages, I enjoy it and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that professional football is a business, and it’s certainly entertainment. I guess I’ve learned to enjoy the entertainment aspects of it more. I’ve also come to appreciate the hard work and strategy that goes into the game. But it still mystifies me.

I have no predictions for who will win the Super Bowl, but I’m rooting for the Raiders because I like old guys and their fans are wacko.

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