Thursday, September 3, 2015

FOOTBALL...F*ck Yeah!

My relationship with football is a complicated one.

Like any relationship worth having, we’ve had our ups and downs. But what I’ve come to realize is that ours is a bond that can never be broken.

When I was a little girl, I was a huge Boston sports fan. As a grammar school kid, my Krushelnyski jersey was my most prized possession. I could tell you the name and number of every Bruin: Mike Krushelnyski #25; Steve Kasper #11; Ray Borque #7; Pete Peeters #1; Rick Middleton #16; Terry O’Reilly #24, Barry Pederson #10. That’s how big a fan I was; that information is eternally burned into my memory over 30 years later and I can recall it with almost no effort. Amazing the useless information your brain retains, isn’t it?

I was a Celtics fan during the Bird-Parish-McHale-DJ-Ainge-era. My mother used to work at the Town Hall in Lexington, which was the next town over from where I grew up in Woburn, Massachusetts. Lexington was kind of a rich town (yes, it’s the same Lexington that Amy Adams’ character in The Fighter refers to as “richie-rich Lexington.”) As an employee of the Assessor’s Office, she was privy to information regarding the sales of homes. I remember when she came home and told us that Dennis Johnson had bought a house up on Solomon Pierce Road, a brand-new development in Lexington scattered with houses so grand that we could only dream of living in them someday. We used to drive by his house and marvel at the fact that we knew where one of the Celtics Greats lived.

I went to tons of games at Fenway, and on an October afternoon in 1983, my Aunt Carol surprised my brother, cousins and I by taking us to “Yaz Day,” Carl Yastrzemski’s last game and a celebration of his Red Sox career.  Walking down Yawkey Way, my senses were overloaded by the smell of Sausages, Peppers and Onions and carts with various Red Sox paraphernalia: books, cups, hats, flags, t-shirts and the like. It was a party in the streets with the most rabid sports fans in the country.  Bleacher tickets to a Red Sox game were $6 then. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Oddly enough (especially to anyone who knows me today,) the only Boston team I wasn’t obsessed with was The Patriots. I remember that Steve Grogan was the Quarterback and I remember trying to watch Monday Night Football with my dad on occasion, but on the East Coast, MNF was on so late and I never got to watch more than the first quarter of any game before my mother would make me go to bed.

All this Boston influence somehow passed over me when it came to football. I don’t quite remember when or how it happened, but all of a sudden, I was a 49ers fan. Joe Montana was my hero. The Greatest Quarterback to ever play the game. I still have the very first Niners shirt I ever bought: A cotton jersey with the SF logo on the front. I remember bringing that shirt to Coleman’s (the sporting goods store down at Four Corners—or Fawh Cawhnas if you’re a native) to have the number 16 and the letters spelling out M-O-N-T-A-N-A put on the back. Over 30 years later, that jersey still resides in the bottom drawer of my dresser, over 3,000 miles away from where I acquired it.

One of the highlights of my adolescence was travelling to visit my aunt in Ohio. All I wanted to do was see was Joe Montana’s jersey at the Football Hall of Fame. I remember taking a picture of it with my little Disc camera (remember those???) I still have that picture. A twelve year-old girl, standing, in awe, staring at the jersey worn by The Greatest Quarterback of All Time. It took my breath away. I’m pretty sure my dad had to drag me away so that we could finish our tour.

Then it happened. Sports and I went through a rough patch. There was no other way; we had to break up. Not forever, but for a long, long time. I’m the type of person that likes to do things because I want to do them, NOT because someone tells me I have to. I had a college professor once tell me that it was because of my age (I went to college late in life and was about 10 years older than the average student in my class,) but I think it’s always been part of my genetic makeup. As soon as I started dating a guy who breathed, ate, drank and slept sports, I lost interest. As soon as it was shoved down my throat, I didn’t want anything to do with it. As soon as it permeated every detail of my life and was initiated by someone else, I abandoned it. As far as I was concerned, sports and I were through, and over my four-year relationship, I stood my ground. I banned all sports from my life, resorting to negative comments and the obligatory eye-roll every time I would walk into the room to see my boyfriend watching a game. I wanted nothing to do with it. I know it may be hard for people who knew me during this period of my life to believe how big of a fan I am now, but keep reading…I’ll explain.

Eventually, my boyfriend and I broke up and I moved back home. I spent three years at home before moving to California. Somehow within that time, my love of sports started to creep back in to my life. I can’t explain it; it happened almost without me noticing. The San Francisco 49ers seamlessly eased their way back into my heart. It was if we’d never been apart. Only thing was, now there was a new guy at the helm: Steve Young. Over the next few years, he would prove himself to be in the same category of greatness as my beloved Montana. The 49ers were unstoppable. They were my team. And once again, just like that, I loved them.

Then, something happened. Something that would change my NFL experience forever. In the Patriots 2001 home opener against their arch-rivals, Drew Bledsoe (who I’d never been a fan of) took a vicious hit from Jets linebacker Mo Lewis and suffered internal bleeding. A new kid, sixth-round draft pick Tom Brady stepped in. No-one knew it yet, but on that day, a dynasty was born. All of a sudden, I was a Patriots fan. I don’t know if it was homesickness (I had recently picked up my life and moved 3,000 miles away) or if I somehow instinctively knew that Tom Brady would be the next Greatest Quarterback of All Time, but I found myself rooting for The Patriots. And I’ve never looked back. All the rawness of the die-hard Boston fan came rushing back to greet me; it was as if I had never left. I was a BOSTON FAN, a Patriots one to be specific, and there was nothing anyone could do or say to make me feel differently. I still do love the Niners, and I will always root for them. Unless, of course, they’re playing New England.

A few years ago, I started posting “love letters” to the Patriots on facebook before each game. It was just a fun little thing that I did and I thought I was being clever. People seemed to like them and I got a lot of comments at the beginning of the season from people wanting to hear more, so I started a page called Love Letters To The New England Patriots. I have fun doing it and it’s a great place to talk smack, obviously an integral part of being a fan, especially if you’re a Bostonian.

Over the past 14 years, the football culture has permeated my life in other ways. It’s like the whole thing about your brain retaining useless information that I was talking about before. For whatever reason, my brain likes to hold onto things—very specific things—connected to sports. I associate people (some I haven’t seen in years) with “their” teams. For whatever reason, if I see or think of a certain person and that person happens to be a football fan, I immediately associate them with such. There are people who I see often, and so are at the forefront of my mind, like my friend Sarah (aka The Seahawks Fairy), or Thea and Joe, who are members of my theatre company and are Buffalo and Miami fans, respectively, but there are also people I haven’t seen in years who I do this with: Michael, a guy I used to work with at a restaurant years ago is a Redskins fan; Ben, a guy I did theatre with in the mid-2000’s is a die-hard Eagles fan; Brian is a Denver fan; Drew loves The Packers; Jon, the Cowboys; Erik roots for The Niners; I haven’t seen any of these people in years, but yet I immediately remember their NFL affiliations when they come to mind. Weird, right?

All in all, football is something that I adore. I anxiously await football season every year so that I can talk shit and belittle other people’s teams and tell them how awful they are, all while proclaiming my love for and declaring how awesome my team is. Football satisfies the Bloodthirsty part of my psyche, but in a roundabout way, it gratifies the Flowerchild part of me too. It gives me something to support, to believe in. And to love.

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