I’ve been a football fan ever since I realized it was socially acceptable (even encouraged) to watch big, beefy men run around in tight pants. In the initial phases (Michigan vs. Ohio State games in elementary school), I didn’t understand the game. I watched it because everyone else was watching it and because, even then, I thought it was hot when men were yelling about sports. In high school and college, I actually “got it.” I knew about first downs. I knew what a field goal was, and—God help me—I even once used the word “trickery” in conversation. Since then, I’ve been obsessed. If you know me at all, you know I’m a Michigan Wolverines/Pittsburg Steelers psychopath. Have been for years. In fact, my little brother won’t watch football with me if the Steelers are playing. He says I’m too scary.
So it is no surprise to you, fellow football fans, that the end of December makes me horrendously depressed. It symbolizes the end of the season. For instance, this year, my precious Wolverines didn’t even make a bowl, and the Steelers have tossed their playoff chances with five straight weeks of failure. That being said, I’m not allowed to complain, because well, my team did win the Super Bowl last year, didn’t it? My father likes to remind me of this, since he’s a Lions fan, and since when have they won a Super Bowl? Therefore, I gracefully shut the heck up.
This year was different. Not because the Steelers have been sucking, but because I had the chance to attend my very first NFL game. Opening night of this season, my boyfriend put his name in a raffle at my favorite football bar. Surprisingly, he won. He won two free tickets to see the Carolina Panthers, December 6, in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was excited at the prospect of seeing friends in Charlotte, sure, but I was more excited at the prospect of a LIVE NFL GAME. Clichéd as it is (especially this time of year), I was like a kid at Christmas at the tailgate. First off, I’d never really been to a NFL tailgate. People go all out. This one couple had a decked out fake fire truck with “TAILGATE” on the side and a keg-o-rater, stereo system, and benches inside. But it was more than the fire truck. More than the binge drinking before noon. More than the camaraderie. I’ll be selfish here. It was all about ME and my first NFL game. They were celebrating! They were welcoming me into their ranks! I was an honored inductee, dang it!
Even though I don’t care about the Carolina Panthers (does anyone actually care about the Carolina Panthers?), I dug the look of the stadium from the outside. The great, big, growling panther statues outside were cool. The Christmas wreaths on their necks deterred from their ferocity, but hey, who says mascots can’t get into the holiday spirit, too? Inside, I could hear the undercurrents of crowd mutterings from above me, but it wasn’t until we arrived at our seats that, again, I “got it.” I’ll say this: NFL stadiums feel smaller in person than they do on TV. NFL players look bigger, because you can actually compare their Redwood-size thighs to your own thighs and realize, damn, that man could SQUISH me to death. You can’t see the plays. You have to watch the big screen, and it felt a lot like watching TV. It would have been easy to be disappointed, because when I sat down on my chilly, plastic seat, there were no celebratory fireworks. I could have shrugged my shoulders and been unimpressed. I mean, it’s not exactly MAGICAL.
But I will tell you this. There is nothing like watching two interceptions in the end zone. There is nothing like the sound of hundreds and hundreds of screaming Carolina fans on a defensive third down. There’s nothing like freezing your buns off, for love of the game. And there is nothing like high-fiving the dude behind you, even though you’ve never seen him in your life. Maybe I like football for all of these reasons—for the action, for the excitement, and for the endless random conversations I’ve had with strangers about the Steelers defensive line, God’s hatred of the Lions, and how I want to punch Chad Johnson in the nose.
So. I write this post in ode to my first NFL game and in remembrance of another football season, slowly but surely drawing to a close. Football, we love you. Football, we will miss you. But football, we will see you again next fall.