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?