Football has never called my name. When I watched it, I saw the brutality, the testosterone, the pulverizing repetition.
I avoided it, in fact. All sports bored me. Theatre, poetry, opera, those were the elements that thrilled my soul. In college, I chose friends and boyfriends based on a very simple criteria: no sports. I didn’t want to watch it or hear it.
The only exception was when my brother played football. I promised him that if they went to State that I would dye my hair green, their team’s color. He did and I did and I cheered him on, green pigtails bouncing.
Yet when my college won the NCAA National Championship in 1999, I slammed my window on the rioting outside my dorm, turned up the Maria Callas aria and went back to reading Lord Byron.
I tell you this because sometimes the more profound changes in our lives happen quietly.
When I first dated my now-husband, he told me he liked football. I sort-of hesitated, but reasoned that as I was 31 and not 21, I could take a chance on dating against type. I figured an occasional football game could be tolerated.
Little did I understand that my guy came from the University of Tennessee tradition: not only would he watch the game every week, he would watch it with a passion. He would shout at the tv. He would listen to the pre-game show, the game, the post-game show and the coach’s call-in show.
I was ill-prepared, to be sure. “What’s a Vol?” said I. He would wake me up to the strains of the Pride of the Southland Marching Band playing “Rocky Top”. And, frankly, I can’t pick a color less flattering to me than Tennessee Orange.
But, despite myself, I was starting to be won over. I would wander down mid-game, book in hand, just to sit by him. I let him paint our basement orange. I learned the words to “Rocky Top” as well as the timing to add the all-important “woo!” to the last line. I started finding our Tennessee garden gnome in odd places.
More important, I started to realize why it meant so much to the man I married: the history, the pride and tradition. He had watched Tennessee football with his father and he watched it with his son. And now, I was lucky enough that he wanted to watch it with me.
I still struggled, though. I watched, but without fervor or even much interest. I was in the room without being -present-. He deserved better.
And then two weeks ago, I woke up Saturday morning and laid there, looking at the ceiling. I decided I wasn’t going to do half-hearted any more. I wasn’t going to be a football widow; I was going to be a football -wife-.
So I shook him awake and said, “Sweetie, do you feel okay? The pre-game show isn’t on!” And I brainstormed with him about silly Man Cave additions. I showed him my orange socks and deemed them “lucky”. And I went and watched the game and I cheered for Big Orange.
And then I was able to see the passion and the grace, the commitment in believing in something larger than yourself.
And I learned that life is not about closing yourself off to new joys, but finding new ones with those you love.
Dedicated to Michael, who taught me how to be a proper Vol.