— There's a pillow on the couch in our basement embroidered with that old gridiron proverb: “We interrupt this marriage to bring you the football season.” But my husband doesn’t consider himself a football “widower,” nor does my son think he’s a football “orphan.” And what they really don’t think is that mom’s funny or different or weird because she loves football. As I’ve always maintained, there’s no football gene that only men possess. Guys may sit in the stands and live vicariously as a receiver swoops through the air to make some body-contorting catch or a safety levels a bone crunching hit but the word fan comes from “fanatic” and there's no gender stereotyping for that.
When I was growing up, I was definitely an anomaly. Some little girls loved Barbie; for me it was Miami Dolphins fullback Larry Csonka. There was no Csonka doll, but his picture and the team autographs hanging on the wall in my room were much better. He was my introduction to the love of the game. And my parents thought this was okay, in fact they supported my interests so much they bought me football books and my dad and I started going to games when I was 12 years old. To this day, people will still ask if I had brothers who whet my appetite for football (the answer is no; my brother was a champion skier!). I turned my parents into football fanatics!
But today, more and more women are serious football fans and the numbers bear this out. Last season, women made up 33 percent of the average NFL viewing audience, according to Nielsen. The Super Bowl in February attracted 41.9 million female viewers. And over the last 12 months, 35 percent of the adults who attended NFL games were women. The league is fully aware that women are a growing and coveted segment of viewership to be wooed. There’s even a line of NFL maternity wear and matching onesies for the new arrival. And the New York Times recently documented a new official sponsor of the league lining up alongside the big boys of beer, cars and junk food: an air freshener, clearly marketed to the female audience.
I’m about to start my 28th season covering football (sssshhhh) and I think this is the best time of the year. Every team seemingly has a chance. Every story seems new. The matchups are exciting. The appeal of football can assume many forms. I've talked to many women who are as obsessed with the strategy and game planning and second guessing as any of their male counterparts. Then there are some women who couldn't and wouldn't want to distinguish a screen play (an offensive pass play) from a screen door. But if you love reality TV, unscripted drama, magnificent athletes, and great stories, then the NFL is definitely for you.
If you're new to the game or just don't want to lose your man to the tube for hours on end, don't worry about what you may not know or understand about the game, enjoy the stories. For example, in our Thursday night opener, quarterback Brett Favre tries to beat the team that knocked him out of the playoffs last year enroute to winning the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Saints. How much magic does Favre still have in that creaky, nearly 41 year old body? That's right, at 40, he's nearly old enough to be the father of some first year players. And how about his counterpart Drew Brees? Do you remember that incredible picture of him holding his baby boy atop the winners' podium as tears streamed down his face? You don't have to know the "x's and o's" of the game to appreciate that image.
On the Sunday Night opener, new Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was traded by the Philadelphia Eagles after 11 seasons, goes against the Dallas Cowboys, the team that knocked him out of the playoffs the past two years and hastened his departure from Philly. With players changing teams, revenge is always a strong storyline. And then in week two we have the “Mother’s Nightmare Bowl” when the New York Giants, led by Eli Manning, visit the Indianapolis Colts and their four time MVP quarterback, older brother Peyton. That game is agonizing for parents Archie and Olivia. Their third brother Cooper csn't even go to the game. Talk about sibling rivalry! I’m psyched just thinking about it all. So curl up on the sofa, I’ll lend you my “football and marriage” pillow and enjoy the best sport on the planet. In fact, forget the guys. Just invite a couple of girlfriends over to watch…..
In America, the autumn season means two things-back to school and back to football. To celebrate both events, NBC News' educational arm, NBC Learn, is teaming up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Football League (NFL) to release the "Science of NFL Football" — an informative 10-part video series that explores the science behind America's most beloved sport. To find out more, click here.