If you are familiar with American football and I tell you that I was born and raised in Wisconsin, not far from Green Bay, you would likely assume – and you would be right to do so – that I come from a family of Packer fans. Add the adjective rabid and you’ve hit the nail on the head.
Growing up, game day would often find two of my family members (usually some combination of father, mother, and older brother) making use of our family’s pair of season tickets at Lambeau Field, cheering on the team in the flesh, oblivious to their butts freezing to the bleachers and the layers of ice and snow accumulating on their green and yellow hats. If the Packers were playing an away game, my family members could be heard for blocks around yelling at the TV. (Usually they were screaming at the ref’s bad calls – a time-honored tradition that my brother has maintained to this day, though he now adds his own personal flair by including lots of expletives.) Because my sisters are eight and eleven years my senior, I don’t have specific memories of them joining in the the family pastime. They were probably off somewhere getting into teenage mischief and, eventually, away at college. However, as adults, they are both in touch with their inner Packer fans – with acceptable levels of intensity (moderate for one, extreme for the other) – filling my parents with understandable pride.
And my parents’ house – holy Wisconsin dairy cow! Little shrines of Packer worship can be found in almost every room:
Football wasn’t the only TV-worthy sport in my family. To this day, my mother loves watching her alma mater play college basketball. And before he died, my dad used to watch golf (golf?!) on television. (How about snail racing? Anyone? Anyone?)
But Packer football was king… in our house, in our neighborhood, and around the state. And it wasn’t just my immediate family. Friends, colleagues, cousins, aunts, uncles – they were all in on the game, so to speak. To this day, my peripatetic cousin Brian – lender (giver?) of bike boxes – whose personal mantra, “no kids, no pets, no plants,” and his job allow him envious amounts of global travel, demonstrates that, no matter where he is in the world, the Packers are never far from his mind:
Now, I’ve recently discovered that we all possess a gene that determines our disposition toward the divisive, black, yeasty spread known as Marmite. Genetic science can actually determine if you are a Marmite lover or hater. (wink, wink) By the way, I’m a hater and the husband is a lover. No surprise there.
I mention this because it makes me wonder whether such a gene exists for sports fandom. You see, I am my family’s bad seed. I don’t like the Packers. I don’t like football. Strike that. I hate football. I always have.
Now don’t get me wrong. Though I loathe nearly all televised sports, I get into the Olympics – both summer and winter – with abandon. But we’re talking about a two-week event featuring dozens of interesting sports (except curling – curling is not a sport – it’s a game – and a boring one at that – it’s basically shuffleboard on ice, rivaling golf for the title of Most Mind-Numbing Game to Watch on TV) that only comes around once every two years. And true to my nature, I don’t feel terribly strongly about who wins this event or that at the Olympics. I’m just hooked on seeing the amazing athletic feats. Then, when it’s all over I think, “That was great, but thank God it’s over. Now I can get back to my normal life.”
When I first met the husband in my mid-twenties, it was extreme like at first sight, followed quickly by love. This instant attraction was mostly down to his wit, intelligence, looks, and charm (and the English accent didn’t hurt either), but the fact that he was a non-smoking,* non-sports-watching kind of guy definitely factored into the romance equation.
*I am a militant non-smoker. My mother smoked from her teens until I was 15 years old. I used to sneak her cigarettes and break them in half before burying them in the garbage. [Strangely, I used to beg her to let me buy cigarettes for her at the coffee shop, but that was down to the fact that they came out of a vending machine (my, how times have changed) and my exuberance can be explained by the fact that it was just plain fun to insert a coin, pull a lever, and watch something drop from above with a great thunk.] To this day, I blame every physical ailment I have ever had to the fact that my mother smoked while she was pregnant with me. (Mysterious rash? Mom smoked while I was in utero. Plantar wart that took five years to get rid of? Nicotine-laced amniotic fluid. Aching joints? Deteriorating eyesight? Toxic uterus. You get the hazy, smoke-filled picture.) So as you can see, falling for a smoker was out of the question.
Anyway, I’m drifting a bit. Back to team sports. Suddenly, about a year ago, after living in the US for over two decades, and for reasons that remain a mystery to us both, the husband committed the worst act of treacherous betrayal possible for a married man: he decided to become a serious and dedicated English soccer fan. (For the purposes of this blog post, I shall refer to American football as football, even though the husband refers to it as throwball to contrast it with what he and most of the rest of the world call football, which I shall refer to as soccer.) More specifically, he has become a rabid – there’s that word again – Arsenal fan.
This new pastime has created some tension in our household, as you might imagine. Not only is the soccer season something like nine months long, but the day-to-day activities of our lives are now being shifted and shunted to accommodate the soccer-viewing schedule. What’s more, the constant din of screaming fans is enough to send me to a mental institution. And I am now married to someone who yells at the television – something I actively tried to weed out in my dating life. He even calls our rabbit Gunner Bun, which is not his name.
I’ve been married long enough, however, to know that the soccer mania that has taken hold of the husband is not something I can wish away. Coaxing, bribing, or throwing hissy fits won’t do much either, other than contribute to the household misery. Thus, I’ve decided to go against my deeply-ingrained, DNA-driven nature and attempt to support Arsenal. I started this a while back, making half-hearted comments like, “Go Gunners.” and clapping mildly when they scored a goal, but the husband saw right through me. When I asked questions like, “Who are we playing today?” he sneered at me and said things like, “There’s no “we.” This is not “our” team. It’s MY team!”
Then, with Christmas on the horizon, I saw my chance to try a bit harder and enact my New Year’s resolution a little early. In addition to buying him a mixed-bag of Arsenal paraphernalia, I included an Arsenal shirt meant for me with the promise to be a card-carrying fan.
After opening gifts on Christmas morning, the husband and I took a sauna and I immediately realized my mistake. I had gotten myself trapped – cornered in a small, hot room by a man who was high on love for his newly-converted soccer-supporting wife. First, he suggested that I write a blog post assessing Arsenal’s ever-changing away-game uniforms. (I’ll pass, thank you.) Then he started schooling me in everything I would need to know to be a genuine Gunner fan.
The husband: Our arch-rival is Tottenham Hotspur
Me: Got it.
The husband: You know Bruce from my school? He supports Tottenham.
Me: Should I start hating him?
The husband: (after a brief moment of pondering) No… no. You just need to know where people stand.
The husband: Also, we’re not too fond of Chelsea.
Me: OK. The elementary school down the street is called Chelsea. Should I go throw rocks at the windows?
The husband: That would probably be going a bit far, but I appreciate your enthusiasm.
He then launched into a 30-minute lecture on everything else that was critical to know: Blah blah blah… Thierry Henry… blah blah blah… Sideshow Bob… blah blah blah… new general manager… blah blah blah… the Emirates stadium… blah blah blah… clean sheets, yellow cards, penalties, offsides… I began to feel sleepy and light-headed, but perhaps that was just the effects of the sauna.
Yesterday – Boxing Day, an important holiday for an ex-pat like the husband – I “watched” my first Arsenal game as a newly minted fan. Already I can feel my resolve slipping, but I’m not completely backing out of my resolution. To borrow the husband’s smart ass phrase and use it against him: I can’t promise that I’ll try, but I can promise that I’ll try to try.