The season is over now, so I feel safe enough to admit the following without fear of pummeling: I don’t understand the game of American football.
Until I was 15, I thought that the “end zone” was the “n-zone,” but I didn’t know what the ‘n’ stood for. I’d casually garble my words if, in the course of a game of 8-bit Tecmo Bowl, I felt the need to curse out my opponent or curse out the game itself in apish frustration. “Corner back.” “Quarter back.” “Touch back.” “Touch down.” “First down.” Am I the only one who doesn’t know what the hell is going on?
My life in sports has been a lie, I know now. I’ve never been particularly enticed by any of them. I played youth soccer for couple of seasons and chose the position that I hoped would maximize my nose-picking time in each game: I was a shitty, shitty goalie.
Given how important the sport was to me, I imagine that “Soccer Greg” must have seemed a lot like a ten year-old stand-up comedian, already exhausted from thirty failed years on the road. I’d hop out of the backseat of the Volvo, put on the little rainbow suit, the gloves, head out to the net, do my shtick for the folks, take off the gloves, hop in the Volvo, and start drinking heavily.
Soon I was an eighth-grader, disillusioned after years of goalie-ing myself out for the masses, eager to prove myself in the eyes of my stronger and more odorous classmates. In an act of sheer patriotism, I decided that it should take my 12-year-old sporting shot at taming the beast that was my raging lack of football knowledge. I joined the junior high squad… Wait. Is it called a squad?
Being small, it was assumed that I was fast, so I was made a wide receiver. When my coaches discovered that I was not fast, that in fact I was very VERY slow, I was bumped to fourth string (whatever that means).
Before long I asked my coach to switch me to an “easier” position — not easier in the physical demands, mind you; I didn’t mind the work-out. (I was a pacifist, not a total pussy. They had a table all their own in the cafeteria, as we did.) No, I wanted a position easier on the brain, something even little mushy-headed Greg could appreciate, and something in which fraudulent-boy Greg could even excel.
They made me “tackle,” which made me happy, as my instructions for playing the game were now simply included in the title of my position. I later learned, from describing what I did in the game to some non-judgmental friends, that I had once been a “d-tackle.”
Four years later I asked some OTHER non-judgmental friends what the “d” stood for. I then understood why I had had so many penalties called on me. I had been, honest to god, running in the wrong direction.
Despite having gone through a season playing football without knowing any of the rules of the game, I was undaunted in my ignorance. It wasn’t that I hated football. I did not and do not. It wasn’t that I didn’t WANT to learn football. I could have used the self-esteem. Rather, I realized after eighth grade that the problem lay deeper — in my chemistry. The indifference to football that ran in Yolen blood, coupled with the calm apathy to sport that marked my mother’s side of the family, I’d essentially had the football bred out of me. It felt like I had been born without an appendix; I was missing an organ I didn’t need, but I was missing it nonetheless. I wasn’t a whole boy. At least not a whole American boy.
And so I committed myself to my lies. But with high school came Super Bowl parties. How could I resist? If I had to sit through one football game a year, let it be one at which my friend’s mother showers me in spinach dip and Swedish meatballs. Besides, hanging out with “the boys” is necessary in any teenage assertion of heterosexuality. If you don’t hang out with “the boys,” it means you must like boys. And thus, to avoid being labeled someone who enjoys the company of men, you enjoy the company of men — but only in a highly-charged vicariously competitive atmosphere, of course.
Attending Super Bowl parties was a lot like how I imagine it would feel if I were to dance nude in front of an audience of lesbians: they wouldn’t really care, but they wouldn’t like me either, just because. Whether or not anyone noticed I was making an ass of myself, these Super Bowl parties were routinely emasculating experiences.
By Super Bowl LXXXVIIIX or so, I was sure someone had seen through my unconvincing cough-cheers, evenly spread over both competing sides’ noise. After all, I didn’t care what team won, just as long as the game ended. If a play was made, and it was “good,” then I was likely to let out a meek “Oh” or “Wow” or “Jesus” or a vague combination of the three. For example: “Oh wow. Jesus, he TOOK that!” This could apply to most any play, most any player.
The charade continues to this day. I’m nearly a man by law, and yet as long as I am football retarded, I am no man, at least not an American one. I’m just playing the part for the real American men around me. I might as well wear a tool belt and FDNY cap wherever I go.
Call me defeatist, conquered by my capacity, but in my stupid way, I am proud not to have given in to football enlightenment all these long years. It’s much more fulfilling, I think, to make fun of people who enjoy silly things than to enjoy those silly things yourself.
Regardless of whether I will ever be a real man, I’m proud to be a lover, not a fullback.
Greg Yolen is a junior in Pierson College.