Turn on the television during football season to any game, NFL or college, and you’ll see stadiums packed with loyal, die-hard fans. Those fans are not just the guys. Ladies are bona fide fans. According to an article by ESPN online in 2012, 44% of all fans in the NFL are female, a pretty big number. I count myself in this group of dedicated, female fans. I love the Ravens and yell, scream and create general mayhem during every game. But I have a big confession to make. It was not always this way.
For a long time, I hated and detested football, with just as much passion as I love it today.
There are probably lots of reasons why women don’t like football. I totally respect and understand whatever the reasons may be. Some women just don’t understand the game (check out the Football 101 series starting here), some women don’t have a football team in close proximity to their city or town, some are just bored by it all and…you get the picture.
I grew up in a family of sports fanatics, including my Mom. No, I didn’t have brothers. I had a sister who excelled at playing sports and I was the creative, prissy one that actually got an “F” in gym. My parents and extended family seemed to love ALL sports, but football – let’s just say Sundays totally revolved around the game. Everyone was glued to the television, dinner was wolfed down during halftime, everyone was screaming and cheering. I totally resented every moment and was usually off reading, making something and to be honest – probably pouting.
My Dad, a fun-loving, outgoing guy adored by everyone, was a sports freak – and did he ever love football! At that time, we had the Baltimore Colts and my Dad was one of the team’s biggest fans. One night, on a ride home from one of my activities, my Dad shared some of his philosophies about the game of football. In his insightful way, he ended with, “You know, Cindy, some day you might just marry a guy who loves football and have a son or sons. It would be nice if you learned the game and carried on the family sports tradition.” I’m pretty sure there was some sighing and eye rolling, but I agreed to give it a try.
Long-time and beloved quarterback Johnny Unitas had just left the Colts. The team did not have a stellar season that year. Two months after the football season ended, my Dad died suddenly at the age of 36. And I vowed never to say the word football again.
In 1984, the Colts left Baltimore in the dead of night for Indianapolis. There was shock and outrage from the fans and the City. The story was covered by the media for weeks. I, on the other hand, was relieved and oh so glad to have that team gone. A difficult memory erased. Football a thing of the past. Even though deep down I knew how sad my Dad would have been to see the team he so loved be taken inexplicably away from his hometown, I was certain never to have that football association to my Dad again.
Well, my Dad was wise. I did marry a guy who loves football and did have a son. And daughter. In 1996, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, were rebranded as the Baltimore Ravens and football was once again center stage in my life. This time around, with a very knowledgeable and patient husband, I watched. I listened. I learned. So did my daughter. Sports became a big part of our family. As a family, we watched football. We cheered and celebrated when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001. Somehow, I had carried on the traditional love of football in my own family.
I haven’t really allowed myself to think too much about those thoughts my Dad shared with me during that car ride years ago. Though the game of football and indeed, the world itself has changed and evolved in countless ways since that conversation, the life lessons my Dad compared to football have not and hopefully, never will:
Even with natural ability and God-given talent, if you don’t have passion and a love for what you are doing, you might never truly be happy.
Any one of us is only as strong and successful as the support of the people around us.
Never give up. Never. Give. Up.
Your innate ability to do something truly amazing can shine on any given day – always be ready!
Dedication and discipline are necessary to accomplish big things.
Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them define or impede you.
Good sportsmanship is timeless – like manners, sincerity, honesty and integrity.
In times of stress, uncertainty, worry or fear, to see something that unites families, friends and communities, regardless of male or female, young or old, race or religion or any of those truly meaningless things that seem to divide us, football is pretty powerful stuff. Cheering for your team. Despite scoreboards, records, disappointments, that intangible, unwavering belief that is reborn each season that this year, this game, this team, will be awesome.
Football. Family. Community. Memories. Hope.
That’s how I became – and am – a football fan.
Thank you for letting me share this story with you.
2 days until Super Bowl Sunday!