Fumble-ina

A new NFL playbook offers a word to the wives.

 He's sat here all afternoon, talking about an awful game; One boy will not be out till June, and then he may be always lame.

Foot-ball! I'm sure I can't see why a boy like Bob -- so good and kind --

Wishes to see poor fellows lie hurt on the ground. I may be blind,

Mike Gorman

But somehow, I don't see the fun. Someone calls "14-16-9";

You kick the ball, and then you run and try to reach a white chalk-line

And Bob would sit right there all day

And talk like that, and never say

A single word of sense; or so

It seems to me. I may not know.

But Bob's a faithful friend to me. So let him talk that game detested,

And I will smile and seem to be most wonderfully interested.

-- "Friends," by eighteen-year-old Edna St. Vincent Millay, the future Pulitzer Prize- winner, who earned $5 for her poem in 1910.


My neighbor Karen grew up in a fine, upstanding household where traditions were passed from generation to generation without regard to gender. Which is to say, she watched football along with her father and three brothers.

"Every Monday night and every Sunday, every game, no matter how many hours it took," she recalls. "I understood the game and never missed one. I brought the chips and salsa out to the sofa, and then I sat there."

She married young -- to a football enthusiast. The tradition continued without a break: Weekends of solid, televised football, chile con queso dip and, now that she'd left home, beer.

"And then," she says, "one day, after ten years, it hit me. I sat there on the sofa and had a revelation. 'I don't have to do this!' I thought. Not only that, if I don't watch football, I can do...something else!"

"That was ten years ago, and ever since then I've watched the game alone," confirms Doug, her husband and the father of their two teenage daughters. "It was over. For a while there, it had been beautiful."

Doug has slogged on without her. On Sundays, for hours at a time, he sits alone on the sofa, queso- and beerless. Karen is out doing something else, without a moment of regret about abandoning football.

There was a time when I would have considered this sacrilege, conduct unbecoming a woman, reasonable grounds for divorce. I played football starting at age eight and watched it every weekend. Sometimes I played while I watched. During televised games, my best friend and I would casually handle a football, flipping it back and forth, until one of us screamed "Fumble!" and we'd start pounding each other for possession of the ball. Once, while he was visiting me in another city, he slammed me so hard into the drywall that I ended up in my neighbor's apartment.

In short, I have a strong sentimental attachment to the game.

Yet as I listened to my neighbor talk about her release from Sunday tyranny, I also realized that it's been years since I sat through an entire four quarters myself. There are plenty of reasons: The players don't seem very interested in what they're doing, and so they aren't very interesting themselves. Their personalities have been filed down to dull nubs; churlish now passes for engaging. Not to mention that football games themselves seem to have slowed down to a crawl: Who has four hours to spare?


A few years back, the NFL noticed that about four in ten of its viewers were women. This drew the interest of the league's eager marketers -- the NFL was the first pro league to develop a full line of women's apparel -- and "Football 101: NFL Workshops for Women" was born. While football may seem to be a game exclusively played and run by men, a brochure for the seminar series notes that this is not the case: "From women executives to players' moms, the women you will meet have contributed their own talents in their own way to making this game what it is."

Last year, more than 10,000 women attended workshops hosted by various NFL teams across the country. This year, after being pestered by hundreds of neglected Colorado women, the Broncos agreed to give it a shot, too. Last month, a capacity crowd of 500 females -- paying $75 apiece -- filed into Invesco Field (at Mile High) to see what they could see.

When it comes to football, the women I know are either enthusiastically into the game or aggressively ignorant of it, so I was curious to see who would show up. I took a guess: Those who love it would be well beyond an introductory course, which left trophy-wife wannabes and those who'd gone through years of worthless marriage counseling, attempting a last-ditch salvage effort before heading off to court.

Rebecca Damiano, the Broncos' manager of special events and entertainment, wasn't sure what to expect at NFL 101 either, although she had some similarly stereotypical ideas before the sign-ups started. "I thought we'd get women just trying to fit in with their husbands or boyfriends," she says. "I was pleasantly surprised at the way they knew the game. I only spoke to two or three who didn't know anything about football."

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