Touchdown!

By Sue Mayfield-Geiger

As a member of the baton twirling squad in high school, I performed dance routines during halftime at football games, marched at pep rallies, cheered when our team ran onto the field and became pretty adept at throwing my baton into the air – even catching it. During the actual game, I screamed the appropriate yells and jumped up with enthusiasm every time our home team scored.

I took great pride in making sure my uniform (short skirt, white blouse and nifty hat) was washed, starched and pressed before each game and that my white boots were polished and gleaming. I never missed a beat while performing and made sure to pivot just at the right time to be in sync with the rest of the squad. Since I was the tallest with the longest legs, I was smack dab in the center, so was sort of the focal point.

When I got out of high school, I felt pretty smug about what I had pulled off. Yes, I performed well and never missed a game, but the secret that no one knew is that I knew absolutely nothing about the game of football and even more shocking, did not care. So, now, several decades later, I am here to confess to you and the world: I don’t like football!

Oh, I’ve tried to understand the game and even sat through a few televised playoffs. I’ve had numerous male friends describe every single thing that was going on from beginning to end, listening intently, trying to piece it together and about to get a grip on what just happened, when I’d turn back to the television screen only to see everyone in a big heap. To me, football consisted of some guys running a short distance and then piling up on each other. Run, pile up. Run, pile up. That is all I saw happening, which to me, was pretty boring.

I was able to pull off my love of the game in high school by just mimicking what everyone else did. They would scream; so would I. They would curse; so would I. They would boo; so would I.

So now in the real world of adulthood, I was ready to find out what this game was all about. “Why do they call the main guy a quarterback?” I asked one fine gentleman. “He’s the backfield player whose position is behind the line of scrimmage who calls the plays,” he said. Then I asked him to define a line of scrimmage, and he told me it was a line parallel to the goal lines where the linesmen line up at the start of each play.

You see where I’m going with this. Goal lines? Linesmen? I sort of had it figured out, but I knew each question would just cause me more confusion. One thing no one had ever been able to make clear was the “first down.” I had looked it up in Webster’s and it said: The first in the series of four downs in which an offensive team must advance ten yards to retain possession of the ball. Hello! First in the series of four downs? That still did not tell me what a “down” was.

I knew the meaning of touchdown and certainly knew about the goal posts. Plus I was aware there were 11 members on each team. Two teams would fight over the football for four quarters until the team with the highest score won. It’s the stuff in between that just didn’t jive with me, except the kickoff – I got that. But what about the downs?

The fine gentleman told me to think of a down as a chance. “You have four chances to gain 10 yards,” he said. So I wondered why they just didn’t call them that. Perhaps it just didn’t sound as cool if the announcer shouted out: “First Chance!”

So every football season throughout most of my life I’ve struggled to act like I’m interested in this All-American, beloved sport. I’ve sat in many living rooms, munching on chips and dip while excited fans huddled in front of TVs watching this bowl game and that bowl game, wondering if I dare ask the hostess if she had another TV in the house where I could tune in a Hallmark movie. Yet most of the wives were as hooked on the game as their husbands, so I just entertained myself by mentally counting all the peanuts in a bowl or keeping score on how many beers a certain guy could drink before making a trip to the john.

Years went by, my children were grown, and I was dating someone new. On our third date, I asked the dreaded question: “So, are you a football fan?”

“No,” he said. “I’ve never cared for the game. I’m more into watching tennis.”

Bingo! I didn’t know a whole lot about tennis but was willing to give it a try. I also knew in the back of my mind that “love” was a tennis term. And even though love means “nil” in tennis, the true meaning of love worked for me. I married him.

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