Sports don't thrill me. Maybe I'm a lousy American, but baseball bores me to tears. It's slow, it's monotonous and I just can't bring myself to care. Nothing whatsoever happens for interminably long stretches of time, and just as I'm dozing off, the crowd goes wild and I've missed everything. I've been to a few games in my life, and other than the beer I see no point to it. And I can drink beer at home and not get sunburned. Any game that can finish with a score of one to nothing after several hours is too long for me. I don't have the attention span.
Basketball is at least faster, but it's sort of on the other end of the sport speed spectrum. The scores in basketball regularly go over a hundred points, but the critical difference is often about 6 points. 116 to 122... why not just let each team take a couple of free throws and call it a day?
I don't mind hockey, though I don't watch it. I have a lot of respect for hockey players, because not only are they all over the place tracking that tiny little puck, but they're doing it on ice skates, and the skating is second nature to them. They don't even think about the skating part of it. It's all about following that puck and getting into bloody fights. Their skill impresses the hell out of me, but I don't know all the rules and I don't care to learn them. I'm just not interested enough. I think it's because I'm a Californian. What do I know from snow and ice?
Soccer was impossible not to see when we lived in France, and I can understand the worldwide appeal. It's fast, it takes skill, and the athletics involved are amazing (you try running around for 2 hours playing offense and defense at the drop of a hat!). But like a lot of Americans, I don't follow soccer at all. It's just not in my blood the way it is for the British and French and Mexicans. Even if they do call it football.
Because football - real football, "American football" - is my sport. I watch football. More specifically, I watch football when the San Francisco 49ers play it.
I've watched football, some seasons more adamantly than others, since I was a kid. I can remember telling people I was a Niner fan when I was five, though I didn't know the rules at all, couldn't follow a game, and the Niners were the laughingstock team. Even my dad once tried to explain to me that they were a bad team, but I stood firm at five. They were the team I liked.
However, I can't lay claim to being true "49er Faithful", I'll admit it.
The first year I can really remember watching football was the Raider season in 1980-81. The year they won Superbowl XV. Oakland is actually closer to my house (then and now) than San Francisco is, so it was pretty natural to gravitate towards the Raiders as the "home" team. Especially when they were winning. I admit, it's a hell of a lot more fun to watch a good team than suffer along with a bad one.
I was nine during the year of the Raiders, and my paternal grandmother (Gramma), her sister (Auntie Tina - said as if it were all one word, Auntietina), and my maternal grandmother (Nonie), all used to drive down to our house from Daly City for the weekend to watch football. Nonie didn't see well and didn't follow the game, though she enjoyed the company. Gramma and Auntie Tina were the regular watchers, and there's nothing funnier than watching old ladies watch football. They really got into it. When Oakland made it to the Superbowl, we had a Superbowl party that included handmade newspaper pompoms that they had made, and silver and black yarn "earrings" that looped over the ear and tickled your cheek. All handmade. They dressed in silver and black and pinned "Go Raiders!" signs on their backs. We have home movies to prove this insanity.
Fortunately Oakland won or they might have had to face the wrath of Gramma and Auntie Tina.
Our infatuation with the Raiders died the next year though, when the Oakland team became the Los Angeles team. It's not possible for a San Francisco Bay Area native to root for an L.A. team. We just can't do it. And even now that the Oakland Traitors have returned to Oakland, I don't like 'em. They've been soiled by southern California ground. So for the 1981-82 season, we turned to the San Francisco Forty-Niners. And they did not disappoint.
The words "Superbowl Sixteen" have a certain ring for me. I immediately know who won that one. Superbowl XX? No clue. But XVI I know, because the 1981-82 season is the one that cemented my love of the Niners, which hasn't wavered since (though they've had some lousy seasons in the last 20 years). There was poetry in the way Montana and Clark played together that year, and it was the year of "The Catch". If you don't know what I'm talking about here, there's no way I can really explain it. It was one of the most exciting things I've ever seen in sports.
Gramma and Auntie Tina did Superbowl XVI even bigger than they did Superbowl XV. Gramma showed up with a big "16" pinned to her chest - Montana's number. We waved our homemade pompoms, hooted and hollered and cheered the boys to victory over Cincinnati. We got crazy - three old ladies, my mom and sister, my dad and I.
That was the beginning of the "Decade of Excellence" and there was no more fun team to watch. Montana, Clark, Rice, Lott... I knew those names - hell, I knew the whole team line up. After the first Superbowl win, I had a poster of the team tacked up by my bed and I had a huge crush on Joe Montana. So, I might add, did my gramma, so it's not like I didn't come by it honestly.
When Montana finally left the Niners and was replaced by Steve Young, well, I had a crush on him too. Steve's cute, y'all. One of our neighbors went on a date with him once, and it seemed like all the men in the neighborhood just happened to need to go to her house when Steve's SUV pulled up. He's cute and he was good, so there was something for everyone in Steve Young.
But Steve wasn't even on the map in the early 80's, when my love affair with the team began. Some of my favorite childhood memories are those Sunday afternoons in the autumns of the 80's, learning the rules of the game from my father, asking "Why'd he do that?" when Montana handed the ball off instead of passing it gloriously. Watching carefully plotted methodical marches down the field, or breathtaking passes into the waiting arms of a receiver. Getting loud when a play was miscalled, and not knowing why it was miscalled at all except that my dad looked murderous, and then learning why it was a bad call and seeing it next time so I could get mad too.
There was a lot that I didn't understand at first about football. When I was about ten, I watched Joe Montana spread his hands open and put them on either side of his helmet, as if he were jeering the fans. I asked my Dad why he was imitating a moose. When my father recovered from his laughter, he explained that Joe was trying to tell the coach he couldn't hear over the roar of the crowd.
Another thing I didn't understand, and still don't to some extent, is the butt-pat. Here are these very macho guys crashing into each other at top speed, playing the game with broken fingers sometimes, and when they do something great, their team mates all run up and pat them on the ass. It never seemed to match the testosterone levels, you know? Dad has tried to explain that due to all the padding, it's the one place a player can smack another player and be sure that his team mate felt it. I'll say! Can we get Steve Young over here so I can try it?
Learning these and all the other intricacies of the game is a big part of the reason I love the fall. Rainy Sundays thrill me. There nothing to do but watch the game. The NFL music on TV brings back every Thanksgiving of my life, and the crack of helmets against shoulder pads makes me feel ten years old again, surrounded by my family, excited by the long afternoon ahead. Football means cold weather, family and holidays to me. I think it always will.
But I haven't watched much football over the past 2 years. Last year, Dave and I were selling our house and moving for the first 2 months of the season, and we didn't get TV set up until early December. The year before that we were in France, and other than the AOL Sports Highlights on the Internet, there was no American football to be found anywhere. I really missed it, even though people comfortingly tell me these were "rebuilding years".
This year I've been watching football passionately. I missed the season opener, but I've watched every game since. I'm impressed by Steve Mariucci's ability to challenge poor calls, I think Jeff Garcia has finally hit his stride, and I'm all over Terrell Owens, even if he doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut.
These days, I like to cozy up on the couch under the comforter and watch my boys. Within 10 minutes of the kickoff, Riley has come to sleep behind my knees, and Rhett has settled on the floor in front of me, which essentially traps me until halftime. I watch football like a girl though, flipping over to the Food Network during commercials. I think Gramma and Auntie Tina would have liked that - they were big into cooking, too. So I watch the game, and I watch Food Network, and I feel a little like a kid again. Dave, who's not into football at all (or any sport for that matter) will occasionally come downstairs from his computer to fill up his water bottle, at which time I'll hold up my empty beer bottle, and he'll replace it with a fresh one. This makes me feel a little like Archie Bunker, but I don't call him "dingbat" and he doesn't kvetch. He knows it makes me happy.
And it does.
- KNP Oct 12, '02