Hometown Rules

Football

You purchased a ticket. Your tailgate attire waits at the ready. You’ve called up your sort-of-friend-but-more-of-an-acquaintance from high school who goes to Harvard and arranged for a bed to sleep in for when you’ve finished wandering around Cambridge looking for a party.

You’re ready for The Game. But if you’re me and a lot of people, there’s one large aspect you’re forgetting: the game itself.

American football. People obsess. Where I’m from in the South, geometry teachers award bonus points if the university they support (that, let’s face it, everyone in the state supports) clinches the National Championship. New mothers christen babies after quarterbacks, and high school girls vie for the honor of being named “Football Sweetheart” each fall during Homecoming.

But for many of us, the appeal remains a mystery. It’s easy to look up from our laptops and books and smirk, “Football … is that a thing?” It’s not even witty or punny and yet people always laugh anyway. But ignorance about this esteemed tradition does represent a rather large problem in some cases. The most pressing situation is coming up: You will face it in the stands of Harvard Stadium (I had to look that name up) when the playing itself begins. Suddenly, you’re in a roaring mass of people screaming and cursing in excitement, wonder, anger. And you have zero idea what about. The boy who must literally be forced to speak up in section is suddenly articulate. Detailed analysis spills out of his mouth to all who will listen.

Luckily, you’ve been in this situation before. You haven’t done the reading, and it’s time to fake it. By all means make sure you sit near people who understand what’s happening on the field. It’s an obvious suggestion, but feel free to take it a step further by always keeping one eye on their left knee. This is so when they begin to stand and flap their arms as people at these things are wont to do, you can follow along. No one wants to be that person who’s always a second behind everyone else as the benches of people around them rise in one solid, anticipatory wave.

You can also ask questions to the people sitting around you, who might be ecstatic to share their knowledge. But since there are only so many variations of “Wait, what just happened? I looked away for a second!” it might benefit you to keep some go-to question formats in your pocket. Here’s one: “Didn’t Player 10 get injured? How’s that faring for the team?” or “Ow, that must’ve hurt. Do you think they’re okay?”

When I was growing up, I always knew if there was a game on, because I could hear the neighbors on either side of us (and sometimes my dad from the living room, he caught the bug, too) hooting and shouting over the fence. I told myself that I’d sit down and finally learn the rules. But the scroll bar on the Wikipedia page is intimidatingly small, and many times, these plans to decrease my ignorance don’t work out. The game of football, I know deep down, is complex, strategic and dynamic. The men and women around me who rise out of their seats of their own accord are brilliant, seeing configurations that, to me, resemble mad scrambling. But I concede: For now, understanding football must go on that dusty and ever-growing list of photographs to take, foods to cook, and ideas to learn — leaving only a faint twinge of regret with each reminder of what I’m missing out on.

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