Yes, yes, it seems unlikely. After all, I’m five-two and have limited athletic ability. I also grew up in a household that is fairly disdainful of most sports, and my parents cringe a little when I try to talk to them about passing stats.
So when people ask me how I became a football fan, I find it a little hard to explain what really happened. The truth? I fell into the football world for two reasons: the competition and the camaraderie.
When I first fell in love with my husband, I did it in spite of the fact that he likes football. I spent the first year of our lives together avoiding him on Sundays and changing the channel at every commercial on Monday nights. (Drove him nuts.) Then he and his friends started a fantasy football league, and even though I didn’t have a clue what a wide receiver was (they receive…packages?), I figured, why not? They needed an extra person, and I like games. What could be the harm?
Famous last words.
Next thing I knew I was spending every Wednesday hunched over the computer peering over waiver lists and every Sunday morning screaming at the TV as though my life depended on it. I almost broke a window during our league’s second year when my team lost in the playoffs and I chucked a book across the room.
Whoops. So clearly, I’m competitive, and football (particularly fantasy football) gave me an outlet for that.
No one ever told me that becoming is football fan is sort of like joining a club. It’s not a secret club or anything, sure, but it is certainly a club. My students taught me this during my first year as an Official Football Fan.
See, I teach middle school. And every middle school teacher on the planet will tell you that finding a way to reach and connect with every one of your students in nearly impossible. But you do what you can. And it turns out joining Football Fan Club is just one of many things you can do.
So there I was, teaching a grammar lesson, and because I’d been very bored the week before, I’d snuck some pretty not-so-subtle fantasy football references into the day’s exercises. Steve Smith will earn a hundred yards in the game this week and make your teacher very happy I think so don’t you. You know, fix the run-on. Or something like that. I have no memory of what the exact sentence or assignment was, but I’m sure you get the idea.
And one of my kiddos, who I had remained woefully disconnected from all year, who wanted nothing to do with me and who, while not a troublemaker, certainly wasn’t living up to his full potential in my classroom, jerked his head up. “You drafted Steve Smith? What were you thinking?”
It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. And the kid passed my class.
Being mildly socially inept, I have used my membership in Football Fan Club as a way to start conversations at awkward social gatherings, bond with co-workers, and convince a whole army of middle school kids that I’m not quite as uncool as I look at first glance. Because this is a sport that breeds serious camaraderie. Members of Football Fan Club, even when they root for different teams, are often so passionate about this sport that they will instantly form some kind of bond with anyone else who wants to discuss the pass interference rules with them. As someone who hated sports for much of my life, I’ve found this instant connection to be both strange and amazing at time—but the more years I live as a football fan, the more I appreciate it.
I have a lot of non-football friends (I keep ‘em around anyway) who are consistently appalled by what I’ve heard referred to as the level of “fanaticism” over football teams. Yeah, that’s fair. It’s definite fanaticism. What else can you call it when 90,000 people dress in the same color and all go hang out in the same area of a city to yell and scream with one another?
But I would argue that this sort of fanaticism is, in some ways, one of the best things that can happen to a place. Let me tell you why.
I started out my football career as a Giants fan, having been a recent transplant to Colorado from the east coast. Because if you’re going to watch the hours of football I instantly started watching when I joined that fantasy league, you’ve gotta have a team. (Plus, Eli Manning is cute; I don’t care what the polls say.) I remain an avid Giants fan who has cried her way through two Superbowl wins and hates the Patriots with an appropriate level of passion. But I’ve lived in Colorado a lot of years, and because Colorado only has one football team, it’s hard not to get sucked into the fanaticism that surround the Broncos in this state. I’ve been a Broncos fan since the first time I went to a game and got to dress just like 90,000 other people and yell with them. And in years like this, when they’re WINNING, and they are about to go to the Superbowl, I think it would be impossible to live in Colorado and not get sucked into the fanaticism currently surrounding Orange and Blue.
Here’s why that fanaticism is not just a good thing—it’s an amazing thing.
We’re a pretty divided state, Colorado, in a lot of ways. In Denver the signs change from Spanish to English rapidly, depending on what part of town you’re in. Red and blue cities vie for who has more political power in state-wide elections. Socioeconomics are so variant here that school choice is everyone’s rallying cry for education reform, because the same city can have the best and worst schools in the state within mere miles of each other.
But every Sunday this year, when I’ve gone grocery shopping before football starts, I’m surrounded by people wearing orange and blue shirts with me, and talking about Manning (Peyton this time; at least I keep allegiance in families) and whether or not he’ll come back next season, and what the playoffs picture looks like. Every Friday at school you can hear students and teachers murmuring to each other about what the upcoming game is.
And now? On the cusp of Denver’s first Superbowl appearance since the days of John Elway? Well, you literally cannot avoid how united in our fanaticism we all are.
Schools on Friday showed staffs and classes decked out in nothing but orange and blue. Every electronic billboard in this state is flashing congratulations and luck towards the Denver Broncos. When hubs and I went out to get food last night, I literally stopped counting how many people were wearing jerseys. Even the buildings have gotten in on the act.
This state is, truly, United in Orange. And yes, you could also say we are united by our fanaticism. But it’s a fanaticism that’s bringing us together, rather than driving us apart—and those types of fanaticisms seems harder and harder to come by these days.
I’m hardly saying football is perfect sport. It is sexist in its mere existence, homophobic in its silence on issues affecting gay people, and racist in its undertones. It comes with its own inner fanaticisms that are extremely dividing.
But I’m still a proud football fan and a proud Broncos fan, because I’m proud to be part of a state that’s united around something which is bringing us together. Hopefully it is in this space, where we all agree on one thing, that we can begin to talk to about the things we don’t always agree on—and that we will all become better people for it.