Born and raised in Kentucky, it's easy to become a basketball fan. For most of us, we're surrounded by it. It's not an exaggeration to say that a whole lot of Kentuckians eat, sleep, and breathe college basketball - whether their blood runs blue or red. Football is a different story. We aren't like other SEC states. People don't name their children Crimson or their dogs Bear. We have to work to become football fans.
As a young kid growing up in Western Kentucky, I remember hearing about my uncle and dad playing football in high school. I remember the neighbor boy showing off his football pads and grossing me out with his mouthguard. What I remember most, though, are Sundays watching football with my dad. We would be lazy on the couch and watch NFL games. My dad liked the Cowboys. Beyond that knowledge, my memory is fuzzy.
I'm not sure when my love of football was firmly cemented, but here are some of the memories that led to my current love affair with football:
The first Super Bowl I really remember watching is Super Bowl XX in 1986. I was five years old and I loved William "Refrigerator" Perry, especially his nickname. To a 5-year old, it's really funny to think of a refrigerator playing football. I loved how big he was. I remember loving the Bears' goofy Super Bowl Shuffle
video, too. Funny, I didn't even know I was watching greatness in Walter Peyton's sweet moves.
In October of 1993, I remember the movie trailers for Rudy
. I was a 13-year old girl. None of my girl friends liked football, and boys were still gross. I wasn't about
to be seen in public with my little sister, and my parents weren't interested in the movie. I begged my mom to let me go see it. Back then, you could do that. So I went to a movie about football all by myself. I loved it. I went to a Catholic school. Notre Dame was a Catholic school. So began a period of loving the Fighting Irish. That year also featured the first bowl game I remember the Wildcats playing in, and I cheered them on, loudly, in the Peach Bowl.
The first weekend of high school, there was a home football game. Even though my school's team wasn't very good, the student section was the
place to see and be seen. Unsurprisingly, I was the only one of my group following the game and trying, often in vain, to explain first downs and sacks to the group of girls around me. I thought I was the coolest. I wasn't.
By the end of high school, I was dating a football player as was one of my best friends. We went to away games together, and I coached her on the vocabulary of the game - pointing out the accomplishments of her running back boyfriend. The best thing to come out of my relationship with that high school boyfriend was a deepening love for football.
It's still amazing to me that I chose a college that doesn't have a football team. What, exactly, was I thinking? Despite that fact, college is when I really came into my own in regards to football. I went to a couple of UK games with friends who scored student tickets. I saw a UK quarterback chosen first in the NFL draft my freshman year (that still boggles my mind). I watched future Super Bowl (backup) quarterback Jared Lorenzen eat pizzas across the street from our house on University Avenue. I watched The Bluegrass Miracle
. More importantly, I spent Saturdays
recovering from Friday night
studying with College Gameday on television in the background. I did the same thing on Sundays with NFL Countdown.
Traveling the state for work in the early 2000s, Monday Night Football was the bright spot of my week. I remember watching Brett Favre (he's my favorite, I don't care what you say about him!) play his heart out the day after his father died on a Monday night while I was in a hotel room in Pineville. I remember, too, sitting in Paducah watching the Monday night Peyton Manning and the Colts scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers - one of the most thrilling quarters of football I ever witnessed.
The 2007 UK season was a milestone one for me. My new boyfriend, who wasn't a sports fan at all (and that worried me), agreed to watch football with me. We watched the Wildcats beat Louisville for the first time in four years at a bar on our fourth or fifth date. He was sweet and acted interested, because he knew it was important to me. A month later, he was still around to watch the most thrilling game of football I've ever seen (and he was genuinely interested by that time!) - the night the Wildcats defeated the #1 LSU Tigers in Commonwealth Stadium in triple overtime when Stevie Johnson got loose once again!
While I'm less interested in going to games in person, now, being old and preferring to sit on my couch, I'm no less thrilled with great football. When pressed, I'll tell you that the Green Bay Packers are my favorite NFL team, but I really just love a good game (and for my Fantasy players to do well!). Just like in basketball, I have teams I regularly root for with no good reason (Texas/Oklahoma/The New York Giants) and teams I regularly root against (USC/Ohio State/The New England
Patriots). I'm the strongest Gator Hater and I wrinkle my nose at houndstooth when those teams are playing Kentucky, but on BCS Championship night, I'm always rooting for the eventual champions (because you know the champions come from the SEC!).
Sports is my thing. I've always been the girl who likes sports, and I take way too much pride in the fact that I can talk sports with "the guys". More importantly, though, football and sports are a way that I mark time. I'll remember, fondly, the moments mentioned above, and I can't wait for another season of memorable moments to be made.