Women & Football

Editor’s note: Wrote this blog item for a new web page that is targeted at women college football fans; thought I’d share it here too:

The reason women don’t play football is because 11 of them would never wear the same outfit in public – Actress/Comedian Phyllis Diller.

When all the girls were getting all made up and getting into all that girl stuff in junior high, I was out playing softball or touch football with the guys – Actress Catherine Bell.

The quotes above read like two sides of a coin: Heads, they know the game; Tails, they really couldn’t tell you the first thing about it. Not all that different, say, from teams facing off on the gridiron… except we wear makeup, jewelry, high heels and dresses; enjoy the occasional Appletini, Cosmopolitan, red wine, or cold beer; will rearrange our day for a massage, a hair appointment, or a mani/pedi; and, typically, carry our wallets in purses rather than our back pockets.

Women and Football?!! Boy, I’m jumping right into the middle of the huddle with this topic. So, here goes….

I will admit right now, I absolutely LOVE football! Always have, always will. Sure, I had Barbies and Madame Alexander dolls, sold Girl Scout cookies, curled my hair, built sandcastles, and jumped rope — but my childhood memories also include catching tadpoles, going fishing, and… Football. I grew up on it! Didn’t we all? Oh, right… we’re girls, so maybe not.

When it comes to football, it seems that women are largely self-segregated into two distinct groups: the ones who –like Michael Oher’s adoptive mother Leigh Anne Tuohy- can explain why protecting a quarterback’s blind side is one of the most important basics of the game; and, the others, who enjoy the whole social atmosphere of a football game, but couldn’t tell you the difference between a point spread and a spread offense.

I credit my dad with my formal introduction to football. And a quick poll of my friends confirms that I’m not alone. But I wasn’t an SEC recruit until college. My “junior varsity” years of elementary school were all about NFL Sundays, and Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell… with an added sprinkle of college bowl games on New Year’s Day.

Super Bowl memorabilia

My earliest football memories are of my dad yelling at the television and cheering the only team I ever really knew then – the Baltimore Colts. I grew up in Fort Lauderdale but, like my dad, didn’t care much for the Miami Dolphins. What’s the saying… the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree? Well, I’m proof that it includes sports allegiances, because I never visited Baltimore until my mid-20s. My dad? He was as avid a fan as any, a native of Baltimore who had ushered at Colts games to earn extra money for college. That was in the 1950s, during the reign of one of the greatest NFL players of all time – quarterback Johnny Unitas. Fast forward a number of years and my dad’s cheers for the man in the #19 jersey eventually led to my own hero worship of the one who wore the Colts’ #7 jersey – Bert Jones, who arrived in Baltimore by way of LSU.

A few of my baseball cards

In the spirit of good sportsmanship and full disclosure, I should admit something else. My allegiance for Baltimore didn’t stop with the Colts – I was raised an Orioles fan, too. I was one of three girls and had always wanted an older brother, but having none… I reaped all the benefits! My dad taught me how to throw, catch and bat, and my grandfather took me to Spring training games when the Orioles would play the Yankees. Even as a little girl, I collected baseball cards and knew the players by name – Boog Powell, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar – but I never could figure out why it seemed my grandpa and I were the only ones rooting for the Orioles at New York’s home away from home, Yankee Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

But back to the game that has goalposts…

I credit something that happened to the Colts with making me the college football fan I am today. One night, under the cover of darkness and complete secrecy, a real-life Grinch (then-owner Robert Irsay) stole the team, its brand, its trophies, and its history…. and he moved it all, 600 miles west to Indianapolis. The next morning, the city of Baltimore woke much like the Whos in Whoville, and I awoke to the realization that the NFL was more interested in the commercialization of football… than the loyalty and tradition of a devoted fan base. While I remain a staunch football fan today, my allegiance is solidly behind the collegiate game; I no longer cheer a specific pro team.

Winners never quit and quitters never win – Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi

A devout fan of the television series Friday Night Lights, Dillon, Texas, is where I would’ve attended high school if I could have. Instead, I cheered for a team that never quite achieved the same state prominence of the Dillon Panthers or their cross-town rivals, the East Dillon Lions – the passion was definitely there, but the memories of big wins just aren’t. What I do remember is our high school football coach bringing the football team into the gym to watch our girls volleyball team, in a remarkable show of solidarity. In the three years I was on that team, we only lost once and we were state champs three years in a row. Those championships resulted in some plaques and newspaper headlines, team photos, great memories, and important life lessons. But we got nothing like the honkingly huge rings that high school and college football players get today for state, conference and national championships. Should we just write that off to the gender gap… or do guys really want more bling than girls?!

By the time I got to the SEC, I had completed my training… or so I thought. After all, I had survived my dad’s version of football camp. I knew the difference between holding, offsides, pass interference, onside kicks, first downs, unnecessary roughness, fair catches, fumbles, fake handoffs, roughing the kicker, field goals, a safety, and a Hail Mary pass. I had also assumed that everyone else (i.e. girls) did, too. Don’t all football fans lose their voice each week by screaming like their dad at football games?

I have seen women walk right past a TV set with a football game on and – this always amazes me – not stop to watch, even if the TV is showing replays of what we call a “good hit,” which is a tackle that causes at least one major internal organ to actually fly out of a player’s body – Author and columnist Dave Barry

Knowledge is power in the university environment. But it’s amazing how many women will admit that they’ve held back even just some of their scrimmage smarts because of a (gasp!) boy. Why would our dates be any different from our dads and our brothers… have you ever wondered about that?!

I know I probably have the ticket stub from every college football game I ever attended. They’re right there in my scrapbooks… along with the photos of my dates (one of them was even a football player). I also held the title of Sports Director at the campus radio station, but at that point in time, was limited to covering women’s athletics and reading the afternoon sportscast. Perhaps the closest I ever got to an “Erin Andrews moment” was during my senior year, when I interviewed Bo Jackson and Lionel James during a live weekly radio sports program.

So where are we today with women and football? The world seems saturated with the game. We’ve got CSS, FoxSports, ESPN, ESPNU, ESPN 3D, College Game Day, football video games, Sports Illustrated, recruiting reports, Twitter feeds (pause for a breath)… and even more. But, that “even more” includes a book that will teach women how to “fake” football knowledge, workshops that will teach women how not to be “football widows”… and, my favorite, the Lingerie Bowl.

Interestingly, Erin Andrews herself tweeted recently: “Why are men still shocked when a woman pulls out a sports magazine on a flight?? #really”

Many of us do even more than that — we actually get annual subscriptions!

Men are clinging to football on a level we aren’t even aware of. For centuries, we ruled everything, and now, in the last ten minutes, there are all these incursions by women. It’s our Alamo – Tony Kornheiser, Sportswriter and former Washington Post columnist

Southern writer and humorist Lewis Grizzard said, “The game of life is a lot like football. You have to tackle your problems, block your fears, and score your points when you get the opportunity.”

Ladies, I ask you, isn’t it time we score some points ourselves?

That’s my story – Whats yours?

Beware of the Dark Abyss

(Writer’s note: This blog began in 2010 with a great deal of excitement and inspiration. It had a great first effort, but quickly got sidetracked by an unexpected life event that took a while to get through; quite simply the “joy of writing… just to do it” wasn’t there — so, today, I am asking for a “do over”! And I’d like to begin it with something old-something new.  I found this entry, which was started in mid-July 2010, but never finished.  I guess you could say it was sitting in a box in the Blog Basement, collecting dust and, let’s face it, not feeling any love. Well, it’s finally time to put it out there to see the light of day…)

Basements can be rather creepy places.  I guess that’s why they make such perfect backdrops for scenes in scary movies — it’s something about that dark abyss, the stairs that always creak, the unusually cold temperatures, that odd, musty smell… and, oh yeah, the dead bodies and big monsters that are lurking down in that pitch-black hole. When you put all of it together, you don’t have to be Stephen King or M. Night Shyamalan to really scare the pants off someone.  And, if it’s nighttime, the lights are out and your flashlight doesn’t work – that basement is often like stepping into a haunted house.

Whenever the random service guy  –plumber, air conditioner repairman,  cable guy… (you get the idea)–  asks to enter the dark and dangerous dungeon at my house, I often find myself apologizing profusely that it looks, well… like a basement.  And each time, with an uncanny, almost parrot-like repetition, they respond the same exact way, “Oh, don’t worry, they all look the same.” And every time they pause in careful thought just a moment longer, then quickly add, “some are worse.”  Really?  There are basements more frightening than mine?!  I hate to admit it…. but I always find that strangely comforting. Scary, isn’t it?

What actually resides in basements, besides your deepest childhood fears and monsters that go bump in the night?  After some extensive scientific research, I have found that many will include giant LED/LCD “Game Day”-style (55-inch or larger) plasma screens, theater-style seating, gaming systems, surround sound, wet bars… the works!  Not mine.  Not yet, anyway.  In fact, a quick census of the assorted knick-knacks, must-keeps, real honest-to-goodness treasures, and instances of “what on earth prompted me to keep this?” has yielded a vast and varied spectrum of… well, stuff.  Oh yeah… and a dead frog.

In one corner: my kindergarten scrapbook, carefully and lovingly assembled by my teacher – Mrs. Sylvia Morgan – filled with the whimsical drawings, crafts and impressive report cards of a five-year-old that still lives, breathes, and is mindful of her “Happies” and “Grumpies” in those carefully crafted pages.  Depending where you look next, there are also several boxes of Christmas decorations collected during my 10 years in Germany, piles of good books, framed pictures that still haven’t found their way to my walls upstairs…  and my dad’s old Army trunk, which is overfilled with a cornucopia of childhood memories. Look in another direction and you find camping gear. Over there? Old dolls.  And there? Stuffed animal friends… really, no matter which direction you look, there is something to be found.  On the shelves? Old vinyl albums, and games — lots of games.  We’re talking hardcore, too, like several different editions of Monopoly, Scrabble, Kniffel (the German Yahtzee)…. and Operation.

I never did get Operation as a child, despite my secret pleadings with Santa Claus – so, I bought a retro version… as an adult.  Thank goodness for Walmart.  I would NOT be denied a date with “Cavity Sam” ….and his funny bone!

Old vinyl albums?! I just had to say that again. Now let me spell it:  V-I-N-Y-L!  I no longer even have a record player to my name, but there they sit – scores of them. A few are now framed “wall art” in my home office — where else to display the musical masters, the Picassos and Van Goghs of a generation — mine were Peter Frampton, Boston, Fleetwood Mac, and KISS!  Somewhere on those basement shelves you can even find Walter Egan (remember him?), England Dan & John Ford Coley (ha!)…. a gorgeous Live set from Chicago… and, yes, Gino Vanelli.  If you didn’t already know it, I will tell you a secret…. Gino was HOT and I couldn’t even drive yet, but I did go to a concert…. did I say HE WAS HOT?! Click this link and you’ll see!  Okay, I just looked…. I guess he does sorta look like Tom Jones with big, big hair. But what did I know? That was way before my crush on 80s hair bands… and Metallica.

I know that most of my old vinyl albums can be downloaded on iTunes today for less allowance money than my “vintage” vinyl treasures originally cost — I’ve actually downloaded a few of my favorites — but doesn’t everyone long to hear that distinct crackle of a needle on vinyl, when one side of an album lasted about 15 minutes and you could stack several on the spindle for virtually non-stop play? Can Nat King Cole’s Christmas Song ever sound “the same” without that crackle?!  Some may see those albums and think yard sale — I see nostalgia…. and my eBay retirement!

An archeological dig in my basement can also yield lots of old newspapers… doesn’t everyone save pieces of history – or is that only a quirk of journalists and writers?  There’s the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that has a headline in the biggest Font size ever – SNOW!  How about the front section bearing the news that Elvis died… the Miami Herald that my grandfather saved for me because it had the full transcripts of Nixon’s Watergate Tapes, plus Munich papers celebrating the reunification of Germany… and more.  There are also a couple boxes stuffed with old letters and correspondence – as in, handwritten notes and cards.  Yes, you read that right – handwritten! A letter from my grandfather to a college freshman who missed home, another from a doting dad to a daughter who questioned her future and her place in the world. There are cards and even a drawing or two from a little sister who grew up after big sis left home.  Anything done with pen to paper these days is considered a dying art in an age where social media rules. Not only must we reduce our thoughts to 140 characters or less… we have to be wildly clever to boot!  If I had to Tweet about my basement right now, it would be:  Cold, dark & mysterious seeks new memories and adventures – can also do laundry! #inmybasement

It appears that my entire life I have been gunning to be some sort of archivist…  I could be sitting on a gold mine! And maybe not…

And so it begins…

Everyone and everything has a story.  That’s long been a strong belief of mine and after more than 20 years as a journalist/writer, I have been fortunate to travel to some fascinating places around the world, meet some wonderful people, and collect some memorable and interesting stories.  There’s no secret to it really.  It usually starts with an assignment and an editor who is already behind deadline.  From there, you just have to do your research, possibly board a plane to who knows where, look around, ask the right questions, and – in my case at least – be blessed with an over-abundance of curiosity.  Oh, and then there’s the small matter of transcribing the interview tapes, sorting all the facts and quotes in your head, sitting down to finally write the story, and delivering it in time to meet your editor’s deadline — which was yesterday.

As part of my New Year’s resolution to write more and more often, I’ve decided to embark on an experiment.  The mission?  I want to test a theory that you don’t have to travel to exotic and far-away places to find a good story – that in many cases, you can often find it — right under your nose.  In my case, this would be my cold, unfinished, and rather ordinary basement.  In reality, it’s a room that has a promising and finished future, but that currently serves as a giant, walk-in, over-stuffed storage closet, which holds a winding maze of memories, mementos, milestones… and, well, who am I kidding? There are scattered instances of plain ole’ crap down there, too.  Metaphorically, the basement is also that place in a writer’s brain which is used for long-term storage and the collection of various bits of unrelated information that one tends to pick up here and there.  Over time, even this space can gather dust and cobwebs.

What’s in there?  Boxes.  Lots of Boxes.  Many of them are still unpacked and unopened – proof of life from 10 years overseas.  The rest of it?  Stuff galore – also in boxes – from a U.S. storage unit that was originally packed not long out of college, and then got “added to” as it sat untouched during my 10 years as an expat.  Added to?  Yeah, like when my parents sold my childhood home, packed up all the childhood treasures I had stored for safekeeping in my old room, drove said boxes to the storage unit, and found some way to cram them all in there.

Indiana Jones

Suppose I’ll need a Fedora like Indiana too?!

If you’ve been paying attention and keeping score with me, you’ll realize that what I’m really doing is embarking on a journey that has more in common with an archeological expedition than a mere writing exercise.  Artifacts from childhood, high school, college, and overseas?  Yep, it’s the game of life with a dash of Indiana Jones.  The only question is: which period will yield the most story-rich treasure – the Paleolithic, Neolithic…or Middle Ages.

Navigating my way through all of this will be a personal feat akin to climbing Mt. Everest without sherpas… okay, without the peril of losing one’s toes and fingers to frostbite.  But every journey has to start somewhere.  This one just happens to be the same place I do my laundry.