The Daily Evergreen

Don’t let the bullies keep you from the Big Game

HANNAH STREET | Evergreen columnist

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A microcosm of our ESPN-worshipping nation, my workplace is abuzz with Super Bowl semantics. Every night I work, I sit in the back, my chair turned away from people and distractions like a horse with blinders – the better to focus on my job. Recently I’ve been feeling especially left out. Isolated. Alone. I don’t know these names, these statistics. I am the outcast.

I’m not a socially-anemic hermit – I know what the Super Bowl is. It’s the most important football game of all the football games.

I’ve always considered myself a more developed human being for having a low care factor and getting by on this limited knowledge.

This year, however, unfamiliar feelings of inadequacy are creeping in. Am I the one who is not as developed? A blob of primordial ooze that missed the evolution boat?

Maybe it’s the fact that my nearest workroom neighbor is a sports fanatic, or maybe because I’ve been feeling left out from all this excited chitchat, but I’m feeling the pressure to learn more. To survive and thrive this weekend, I need to be accepted as one of them. I start tonight. My research goal: familiarize myself with the sport and the event – to know everything necessary to pass as “excited for the Super Bowl.”

As I wiki the Super Bowl’s origins, my eyes glazing over, I venture a clarification question to one of my liaisons into the wild world of sportsdom. I am surrounded with these athletic senseis.

“It didn’t use to (take place every February),” says my sports-loving coworker, “but now it does.” He glides away on his rolling chair with no further explanation. A withholding and omniscient Yoda to my wide-eyed Luke.

Those well-versed in the football book of fandom do not question the hype. They are not the outsiders. They are the hearty stock of American culture, weaned from mother’s milk to beer hat. They are a multimillion-dollar industry’s prized target audience, permitted, nay, encouraged to revel in each play like a dung beetle revels in poo and yell obscenities with all the conviction of a religious zealot.

I was weaned onto nonalcoholic substances and do not foam at the mouth in front of my television, so I have some questions. My investigation leads me into a squabble over the definition of “best” with a sports ball aficionado.

“Ideally,” I say, “two teams rise from the rubble of the regular season to face-off as the two best teams out of everyone, ever.”

“Yes,” my coworker responds. I can see that he judges my asking such a self-explanatory question. To the sports-literate, there is indeed such a thing as a dumb question. I can see that I have asked it.

As it turns out, this seemingly simple question is the only concept I need to master the key to understanding the Super Bowl.

“So,” I continue, “all the teams have played against each other at one point.”

“No,” he says, the dawn of understanding (or is that annoyance?) illuminating his face.

“32 teams do not play each other in a tournament. It’s based off of records.”

He pauses, ever so briefly.

“Do you know what a record is?”

“Why, yes. At least, I think so,” I reply, not slapping him in the face.

Sports ball pro continues to say many things about football, which sound very official and ESPN-y. I continue pretending to look confused about what a record is, looking just slightly above his head for inspiration. Numbers? Quotes? Beyoncé? Perhaps I’ll never know.

Eventually we agree, somewhat reluctantly on the sports ball fan’s part, that “best” is not tested in the NFL, but theorized. This helps me make sense of the trash-talk and number-throwing craziness. If everyone played each other, people couldn’t argue whether someone’s throw is good enough to overcome another’s catch, or whatever. They would have seen it already. The hype would die and sexist car commercials would have nowhere to advertise this weekend.

Ergo, the National Football League is as ingenious and deviant in pitting the people of America against each other as Tyra Banks is at causing rifts in female friendships over America’s Next Top Model.

Love her hair, but Nicole Fox is a bland palette of personality, awkward and unsociable – indeed, un-bookable. Laura Kirkpatrick, in all her homespun blonde glory, was the sweetest thing to ever walk through the doors of IMG, walked well and took competitive photos that often rivalled Fox’s. Fox prints well, but, with good lighting, even I print well.

That paragraph is to sports fans what football is to people-with-other-things-going-on-in-their-lives fans. Does someone else need to know the intricacies of ANTM to understand your tears over girls who are robbed of their title? No. They understand what’s at stake (the ever-elusive golden glimmer of a successful modelling career). Similarly, I can sit in my workplace with confidence this weekend, not intimidated by the hoots and hollers when I don’t know exactly what’s going on.

Do hoots and hollers have to happen for a reason? No. I know what’s at stake. A big trophy thingy.

Plus, my brief interviews with the sports-literate taught me that the worst that can possibly happen when you ask questions about the game is that they mock you. I survived the condescension and even thrived on its byproduct.

Don’t hesitate to jump into the hullabaloo this weekend, like-minded readers. Football isn’t supposed to be exclusive, though I know that’s how it can feel if you haven’t been following it. After a few beers, no one will notice that the statistics you bandy about in a heated scrum over hot wings are slightly off-base or maybe even just random numbers. Hit up a viewing party, bring some chips and dip and have fun, regardless of how you feel about football. This budding sports columnist guarantees you’ll have a good time, keep your dignity intact and maybe even learn a thing or two.

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Don’t let the bullies keep you from the Big Game