I own a Pittsburgh Steelers football jersey. My dad bought it for me under the guise of “Santa” one Christmas four years ago. I haven’t bought a new one since, because it’s a Jerome Bettis jersey, and he retired after winning Super Bowl XL. Gotta keep it. Forever. It’s yellow and black, and the white letters of number 36 peel off on my couch when I take naps. Even after a trip to the Laundromat, I can still smell the years of spilled beer, sweat, and fried food—in that order. I love it. It makes me feel confident, in control, and thanks to my team’s defensive line, victorious.
I suppose being a football-loving chick with a nice rack does quantify me as out of the ordinary. I don’t fear bars full of screaming barrels of testosterone. If my team is playing, I’ll sit and eat buffalo wings alone if I have to. I’ll go to parties filled with angry Ravens/Bengals/Browns fans and be chastised and harassed. You can’t scare me, though, just because you have a weak team. This fearlessness has closed the gender gap in many a social scenario and party. When the boys start talking about the recent highlights on ESPN, I can keep up. I take pride in this, but most importantly, it’s really about the jersey. Unbeknownst to my father, my ancient and worn out Bettis jersey taught me how to date.
“Hey, Bettis!” It was how my ex-boyfriend introduced himself.
“The Steelers suck!” He asked for my number later that night.
“Did you see that play on Sunday?” Why yes, handsome stranger, I did. And may I buy you a drink?
This phenomenon began upon first donning said Steelers jersey back in 2005. Like Clark Kent and the Superman cape, I was money. Two men commented on my attire as soon as I stepped onto the sidewalk. My female partner in crime for the night turned to me and said, “You wore that for attention, didn’t you?” I shrugged at the notion, because I didn’t realize wearing a jersey would bring me attention. I just thought the thing was cool in the hot summer heat.
It got me thinking. Did this jersey hold some as yet untapped power? Had I discovered some mystic secret of the male mind? (“Girl-in-jersey; must-procreate.”) I knew I didn’t look sexy in the thing. Standing next to women in sundresses and halter-tops, I resembled a kid wearing her dad’s pajamas. Yet, I was the one getting the free drinks. I was the one getting the numbers. How did any of this make sense?
Then, while hanging with purely platonic male friends on a football Sunday, I noticed something. Although I was a woman, these men were comfortable around me. Although I had been through a bad breakup with one of them years earlier, we weren’t awkward that afternoon. I was “one of the guys.” We watched football, and it made me wonder: is that what all men are looking for? Deep down, beneath the Oedipal-Freudian-Cosmo BS, are men just looking for a woman who is a friend?
My dating strategy changed that day. I learned that it’s not about the sex appeal. It’s not about mystery or “the game.” (Well, unless it’s the “football game.”) It’s about friendship—first and foremost. Men aren’t looking for Donna Reed anymore. I believe they are looking for the female equivalent of their childhood playground pal. Since coming to this conclusion, I’ve tested my theories. I have found them to be valid. I have had the pleasure of dating several men I’ve met through sports and the Bettis jersey. Beyond that, I have made real, true friends with men through sports, and a girl always needs a good platonic dude to have her back in the bars when a Steelers-Bengals brawl breaks out.
As women, we try too hard. We spend hours primping in front of mirrors. We go out to bars and clubs, desperate for attention. We dance with men we don’t like to get the unlikely attention of men we do like. We pretend we’re having fun in these scenarios, but men know the difference between a woman who’s having fun and who’s just pretending have fun. The woman having fun is always the one who will get picked up, because somewhere in that male psyche, the guy knows the fun girl is the one he wants to be with—the one who will be fun around him and his friends. She is the girl who will, most likely, be willing to put on a football jersey and hit the sports bars on Sunday. She will be his lover, his companion, but most importantly, his friend.
Isn’t this what we’re all looking for? A friend for life? I don’t work for Under Armor or the NFL. I’m not saying your jersey has to be a football jersey. Your “jersey” can be a smile. Your “jersey” can be a positive attitude. Or your “jersey” can be as simple as going out, not to meet “the one,” but going out to have fun with friends. And maybe, in your “jersey,” you will find a friend who will love you—even if he is a dirty Browns fan.