Somewhere in the fall of 1984 lies my first sports memory.
“Who do we like?” I asked my dad while staring at the screen.
“The guys in the dark shirts,” Dad answered.
“Oh…Who are they?”
“Oh…Who’s that guy?”
“That’s Walter Payton.”
“Oh…Who are those other guys?”
“Those are the Lions.”
“Oh…What’s that guy doing?”
“He’s catching a pass.”
“Oh…what’s he doing now?”
“He’s dancing, because he just scored a touchdown.”
“A touchdown is when someone runs with the ball into the endzone.”
“That big rectangle.”
“What else do you want to know?”
Although I’ve watched every Super Bowl I’ve been alive for—even, I’m told, the ones I don’t remember—my earliest sports memory is watching the Bears at my dad’s good friend’s house in the city. I remember sitting on the couch next to Dad and Danny Lorber and asking them questions about everything that was happening. Little kids ask questions about everything they see because they are curious about the unknown, which is the natural thing to be when you don’t know stuff.
Of course, that only goes for young fans. Older people watching their first games have different questions, questions driven by some kind of non-sports related logic, which makes explaining sports to them sort of aggravating.
“That guy has already been tackled right?”
“So he’s down now, right? He can’t run anymore?”
“So why do the other guy jump onto the pile?”
“Because if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a pile.”
“Well that’s dumb.”
Then they usually pause, think a little bit more, watch a little bit more, and then come up with another question. Usually something like…
“Why does the guy with the ball run right into all of the defenders like that?”
“That’s where his blockers are.”
“But that’s where the other team is. Why doesn’t he just run around that way to where no one is?”
“Because that’s not the play.”
“Well, why don’t they change the play?”
“Because they just don’t.”
“That’s dumb too. Let’s watch something else.”
A lot of older folk ask questions like that, but if you’re with someone who wants to learn and is accepting of The Way Things Are, explaining sports can be an enjoyable challenge. Especially football, with all the formations, positions, and situations. In January of 2000 at my Super Bowl XXXIV party, I spent the duration of the game explaining football to my friend Heather. She was legitimately interested in learning the game, and I gotta tell you, it was one of the best times I ever had watching sports.