Me and Football: A Love Story

Recently on The Nutshell Version, I discussed my hatred of soccer.

You might have read that and thought, “Oh, I get it. Susie must be a typical girl who hates all sports.”

First of all, you’re a sexist and I don’t like you. But second of all… yes. You’re right. With one major (non-fictional) exception.

I love football.

I love everything about football; I’m obsessed. It’s the only sport I love, and the only conversations I will tolerate on SportsCenter. (As a general rule, watching dudes sit around a desk and discuss Lebron James’ return to Cleveland for hours on end isn’t precisely my idea of rock-solid entertainment.)

…But for football, I make an exception to my SportsCenter rule. Because football is king.

It wasn’t always this way. As a kid, the sport was largely a source of frustration and confusion for me. My solitary association with football was that, to my great disgust and annoyance, it often interrupted my lazy Saturday mornings with whoops and hollers from my dad and brothers in the living room.

Then, later, it would interrupt my lazy Saturday afternoons with cursing and stomping and door-slamming. (We’re a Michigan Wolverines family.) I remember once throwing my hands up in despair and shouting, “Why do you CARE?! It’s a sport you don’t play, played by people you’ve never met, representing a city you don’t live in.” I would then storm off in a huff – probably to go bury my nose back in a book.

It wasn’t until years later that my perspective began to shift… when an ex boyfriend, infuriated by this attitude, finally dragged me caveman-style to the couch, plopped me down in front of the TV, and held my eyelids open with salad tongs. (I might be exaggerating a tiny bit.) I watched with feigned enthusiasm, occasionally asking dim-witted questions like, “That was good, right?” and “Wait, who are we rooting for? The red guys?”

With a very vague understanding of the rules and the attention span of a goldfish, it was not the game itself that initially drew me in.

It was the food.

Food is, without a doubt, the best-kept secret of football. Had I known of the glorious, greasy treasures awaiting me with this hobby – I’d have converted a lot sooner. Finger foods just small enough to be considered “appetizers,” but so unhealthy they likely made up half of my daily calorie intake… Foods that were deep-fried, covered in seasonings, and dipped in colorful concoctions… Foods that (if my years of ignorance were any indicator) did not exist anywhere else. Football unveiled a world of new delicacies to my sheltered palate.

Once I discovered the majesty that is football food, I gladly accepted any invitation to watch a game. And it was food that opened the door to my football relationship.

After recovering from the shock of the magnificent food, however, a new element revealed itself to me… an unexpected camaraderie.

I’ve hugged complete strangers under the influence of football. I’ve made friends with people from all walks of life, celebrated and mourned with entire bar populations, struck up conversations with the unlikeliest of characters – all on the basis of this one, shared obsession.

This aspect of football – this fabulous, easy camaraderie – became most readily apparent to me when I was in sales.

Here’s a confession: I was rotten in sales. I feel I can admit that, at this stage in my career. I consider myself friendly in general, I would describe myself as a “people person” …but when my interactions with people were built around me convincing them to give me money, I clammed up. I watched my colleagues make casual small talk with clients, building rapport and closing deals, and could barely stammer out a “hello” to potential prospects.

…That is, until I discovered football. Once I had this simple conversation topic in my back pocket, sales became so painfully easy. If I had nothing else to say to a human being, at the very least I could check their area code. “Oh, you’re from Oakland? Jim, I need you to be honest with me right now. Are you a Raiders fan? Because if so, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to hang up…” They’d laugh, and I’d laugh, and more often than not we’d gain a new client.

And it was a conversation that didn’t expire! All season long, if I followed closely enough, all I had to do was say “congrats on the win” or “devastating loss.” The other half of the year, I could talk about trades or drafts or such-and-such player’s crazy off-season antics, and there was always something to discuss. Conversation never ran dry, and the sales naturally followed.

I felt I had discovered an insider secret, like maybe this was cheating somehow. Did other salespeople know about this? I kept waiting for someone to call my bluff… put their hand down and say, “Let’s face it, you have nothing to talk about but football, do you?” But no one ever did. Everyone was just as eager to talk about football as I was, and I gained a new friend every day.

Thanks to this unspoken, unbelievable camaraderie, football single-handedly carried my sales career.

It wasn’t until after the food, and after the camaraderie, that I actually started falling in love with the game. There’s just something about watching football that no other sport can accomplish for me. The raw passion, true grit dedication, the strategy and variables and living, breathing, culture… football is something special.

So I am counting the days until our fantasy draft… and on September 4th, you can find me cheering enthusiastically, stuffing my face, and probably high-fiving a stranger.

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