American Football To An Asian Woman
by Ruby Bayan
Huge men in padded uniforms ramming against one another and piling onto a heap of bodies for one ball that doesn't even bounce properly. Millions of Americans, including my husband, devote six months of every year to this phenomenon they call the NFL (National Football League). Every Sunday from August to January, they live for nothing but these 3-hour games; and Mondays exist only for Monday Night Football.
I thought to myself, "If I want to nurture a relationship with my football-loving partner, I need to know more about this game." So, by watching intently, and constantly asking him what was going on, I learned to appreciate the nuances of this "All-American" passion.
Coming from the world of buoyant and petite people, I marveled at the fact that NFL players need to be 6 1/2 feet tall and weigh 300 pounds. They need to have been exposed to the game at a young age -- to develop body callousness against onrushing forces that require crush-proof helmets and 3-inch padding to live through. Some of them don't look human anymore.
Thirty-two teams compete in the NFL. Each team represents a sponsor city and a symbolic nickname -- the Minnesota team is called "Vikings" because many of their residents were originally Scandinavian; the New Orleans "Saints" gives reference to their signature marching song, "When the Saints Come Marching In;" others associate with animal qualities like the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, and Philadelphia Eagles. But with 32 teams, it's easy to confuse the cities, nicknames, logos, and team colors. I've watched football for seven seasons and I still asked my husband, "Denver is the one with the horse -- the Colts, right?" Wrong.
When my husband brought me to the stadium for "the real thing," I couldn't help ogle at the culture unique to the NFL fans. At the parking lots, energized fans barbecued, drank, danced, and played in what they call "tailgating parties" (they drop open the tailgates of their pick-up trucks and cook and serve food on it).
In the stands, die-hards not only dress in team colors, they paint their heads with team insignias, dress in outlandish costumes, and deck themselves with eye-catchers like rubber cheese slices, plastic pig snouts, and neon wigs. NFL fans -- men, women, and children -- live up to the true meaning of "fanatic."
So far, I have succeeded in understanding the game's objective -- to "touchdown" or get the ball past the defending opponents and across the goal line. The opposing team tries hard to stop the ball carrier from achieving this, so for the most part, there's a wild skirmish of padded bodies smashing against each other.
I also know that the quarterback is the most important player, but it will take a little more time for me to figure out what a "tight end" does, why "roughing the passer" is a foul when everyone seems to be roughing everyone else, and how referees can tell if it's a "pass interference" or not.
There is still so much to learn about the game; but for now, I am happy with the knowledge I have, which is enough to keep me beside my husband, screaming at the screen, just like an All-American Football fan.