I had no knowledge of football. I did not know it had a season of its own, I did not know it was a thing that happened on Sundays, I did not know that there were people who placed any kind of importance on sports in their lives. My family simply wasn't interested. I was vaguely aware of the existence of sports only because there were a couple kids in my elementary school who wore Starter jackets with strange symbols on them. There were a few front yards around town with arrowheads and the word "Chiefs" emblazoned on various things, but I thought that just meant Native Americans lived in those houses. (Well, "Indians" in my childhood brain.) This isn't that strange, okay; it was southern Kansas, there were a few Native Americans in my school system, plus the Ponca nation just across the state border.
But as it turns out, there are people in this world who live and die (figuratively... for the most part) by their football team. I know this because I married one of them.
First of all, my husband's come a long way in eleven years, mostly because he realized that Scary Monster Football Derek doesn't do much toward making warm, fatherly memories in the hearts of his children. He still hollers and glowers and whoops during the games, but he intersperses it with games of catch with the kids and weird, forced smiles thrown in my direction to show that he is still aware of and thankful for my existence.
But let's say you're still a newbie. Sports, you say? Oh, yes, I have heard of the sports. They make for wonderfully emotional movies. Isn't it remarkable how the good-hearted underdogs always win?
If this is you- me, a little more than a decade ago- there are some things that you need to know.
#1. Your loved one is no longer your loved one.
If this sounds like crazy Jedi logic, that's because it is- crazy, that is, but also true. That perfectly sane, reasonable human being you thought you knew? They are gone, gone, gone, replaced by wild-eyed, irrational Sports Loved One, at least for the next few hours. I recommend reading a little classic Robert Louis Stevenson to help you understand this phenomenon, because that is surely Mr. Hyde sitting in your chair, wearing a treasured NFL jersey that may or may not have been washed in quite some time, depending on the level of superstition in your Sports Loved One.
#2. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. You watch sports, I get an extra hour of the Great British Baking Show.
Once you've accepted the reality of the presence of Sports Loved One, it's time to figure out just how you're going to get through this. You could throw yourself a little fit, make Sports Loved One good and miserable with lots of sighing and eyerolling at key moments in the sports thing, but do you really want that kind of behavior boomeranging back at you when you're in the bookstore with a stack of new-found treasures and what you hope is a winning smile directed toward your loved one? A little tolerance goes a long way and can be redeemed in a variety of ways, say, in hours-long wanderings together in an antique emporium.
#3. Engaging Your Sports Loved One
Okay, so you're ready to practice some tolerance. But what does tolerance look like? In the early years of our marriage, it was helpful to me to pretend Derek was a wild animal any time the Vikings were playing. If you've ever read anything about approaching dangerous animals, you'll find that experts recommend what is known as an "open approach." You'll find that many of the same principles apply to Sports Loved Ones: First, you approach the animal/SLO openly, perhaps deliberately making a subtle noise to let them know you are there. Try delicately crackling a chip bag, preferably in their diagonal line of sight. Be very cautious about making eye contact. If at all possible, AVOID CONTACT, but if you must, follow the previous guidelines, and above all, REMAIN CALM. I do everything I can to stay away from my Sports Loved One, but Doritos are Doritos, man, and sometimes needs must.
If you've ever invested time in learning a foreign language, you know that the best and fastest way to acquire this second language is through immersion. Now, I don't want to alarm you, but merely by virtue of being in a relationship with your Sports Loved One, your own immersion has begun. Don't fight it, dear. Parts of your brain may find it slightly appalling that you now use such sports idioms as "throwing a Hail Mary" and "huddling up." This is natural and expected, and will help make up for the errant All this fuss for a piece of overboiled leather, and It's just a game! that still occasionally slips through your lips.
#4. Enforced Calm.
If all else fails, start having babies. Babies tend to cry when you let out heartfelt screams, even if it is because Adrian Peterson scored a touchdown for your beloved Vikings. The parenting books don't say so, but infants provide wonderful aversion therapy for the excitable sports fan in your house. If kids aren't really your thing, perhaps a high-strung dog would meet your family's needs. Anything that will scream back and with greater intensity at your Sports Loved One will suffice, really; babies are just what we ended up with.
You can do this, sports novice. If we all stick together, maybe come up with an official colored awareness ribbon for those of us who live with and support our Sports Loved ones, we, too, can have an entire sports event decked out in our chosen color. I vote puce.