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Sex and the football fan

The Independent of Edgewood, New Mexico

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Mountain Musing

For millions, Superbowl XLV on Sunday between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers will be a gender-bender exercise in marital discord.

This will transpire despite the fact that almost every day the differences between men and women shrink.The laws of the nation and of science seem determined to eradicate gender distinctions. Men are making fine nurses, cooks and elementary school teachers, while women are heroic cops, firefighters and soldiers. I have a couple of male friends who happily raise the kids and keep house while their spouses bring home the bacon.

Yet there is one sphere of life that seems to disprove all the assumptions of sexual sameness: football. Women, of course, play football.They play touch football by the millions, and small numbers even play high school and college football. But do they understand football in the way men do? I submit that the average American male thinks he has a unique understanding of football, or at least pretends to such an understanding; while the average American female does not. I will carry that distinction a step further Even those males who don't understand football are usually too embarrassed to admit it, while even the least befuddled females feel they must assume an attitude of indifference, ennui and incomprehension when confronted with a 300-foot-long grass rectangle inhabited by 22 uniformed hulks.

My old friend Joe Jasper, a full professor who holds the Red Grange Chair in Football Physics, Physiognomy and Psychic Psychology at the University of New Mexico, has extensively studied the brave waves of women and men when football is discussed.

He asks both genders an array of seemingly simple questions. One is "Why is a quarterback sneak called a sneak when every idiot with eyes knows the quarterback has the ball and will run straight ahead into the line?" Or "Why is there a position called a tackle when he (or hypotheticaUy she), like all other offensive linemen, is prohibited by the rules from tackling anybody?"

Confronted with such questions, the brain waves of men and women both go haywire, but in different ways. Men express confusion that often quickly resolves itself into bravado and a response like,"You'd better stop asking me trick questions if you know what's good for you."

Women, on the other hand come up with answers that are, let us say, a bit unusual.

"It's called a quarterback sneak because the first thing that the quarterback I know wants to do is sneak into my pants."

Or,"A tackle is a guy who's so big that the referee can't stop him from jumping on anybody he wants to."

To the uninitiated or uninterested, a football game seems to last for hours, but that is clearly an illusion. While a football game may span several hours from opening to closing whistle, most of that time is taken up with commercials featuring young women whose expanse of bare flesh mathematically exactly counterbalances the lack of bare flesh among players on the field, who are girdled from scalp to toe in protective armor. Also helping to compensate for the players' coverage is the uncoverage of cheerleaders.

A football game itself is supposed to last 60 minutes, but about 83 percent of that time is taken up with huddling, counting down to the hike or unscrambling the mess on the field after a play is over. It has been estimated that the actual amount of play time in a professional football game is 10 to 11 minutes — hardly enough play time to keep even a pre-kindergartener contented.

Although most women would be horrified to learn it, as confusing as football is now, it's a lot less confusing than it used to be. A century ago, the forward pass was illegal and all the play consisted of ball handlers smashing into raging mobs on the line where no one, least of all the referees, had the least idea what was happening.

But as the forward pass became legal and then more and more popular, the field opened up. Nowadays it is not uncommon to see a play in which even a spectator in the bleachers can spot both the ball carrier and the men (or theoretically women) who tackle him (or her). Rather than a mobs scene, the downfield encounters between runners and tacklers more often resemble the world's most brutal ballet.

One reason that football games last so much longer than the supposed 60 minutes is for the advertisers to get their word in edgewise. Football may now be the national sport (more people watch it than do baseball, the dethroned national sport), but it wouldn't exist without advertisers. So the teams take advertising timeouts, that is stop playing so that the TV audience can focus all their attention on the game (or getting another hotdog or going to the bathroom).

Another reason for the length of the game, of course, is to give TV networks a chance to show off their high-tech skills with instant replay. In fact, it is not uncommon for the repeated replays of a scene to occupy far more time than did the scene itself.

These replays are creating an interesting occupational hazard for referees, because every member of the home audience is in a better position to judge the rights and wrongs of which player is doing what to whom than is even the most eagle-eyed referee.

All of these little problems don't keep tens of millions of Americans from rooting intensely and emotionally for their team, even though "their" team may be based in a different city with a roster of players from other states and even other countries.The emotional bond between a spectator from the Estancia Valley and a team from an Eastern metropolis or a Midwestern boondocks — a place that he would never in his life consider telephoning, let alone visiting — is one of the curious cellular attributes of the American male brainwave, Professor Jasper found. He could locate no comparable cellular anomaly in the female mind.

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Original Publication Date: February 2, 2011

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