Forgive me, football fans, for I have sinned

I’d like to tell you that I made the confession at the start of the second quarter, with the ball on the 30-yard line and the score 14-6. I’d like to tell you that I didn’t know the first names of only two players on the field and wasn’t trying to figure out the others by rhyming words with the last names printed on the backs of the athletes’ jerseys. I’d like to tell you that I wasn’t disappointed when I learned Bernard Berrian’s first name isn’t Antiquarian and Adewale Ogunleye doesn’t answer to GoldenEye. I’d like to tell you that, without consulting the Internet, I could instantly recall the teams that played in Super Bowl XLI (it was, as you surely know, the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears) or even the game’s winner (the Colts).

But I can’t do any of that. I was as invested in this game as I have been in any football game, which is to say hardly at all. I watched it, of course, but with a detachment I reserve for situations in which I’m made to feel as if I’m a stranger in my own skin. This happens whenever someone attempts to corral me into a discussion about Family Guy, bad novelists, spirit-nurturing, the personal lives of celebrities or the fact that today’s being Thursday means that it’s almost Friday and Friday is the start of the weekend and — “Oh, my God, it’s almost Friday! Can you believe it?” I can believe it.

At the time, I shared an apartment with my brother, who was two years out of the Navy, 11 years removed from a marriage and 45 minutes reclined in my La-Z-Boy, a chair I typically protected with an Archie Bunker-like ferocity. I was on the couch, a sagging, green, plush-velvet thrift-store find left behind by an ex-girlfriend who estimated a piece of furniture’s worth not by its comfort level but by its appalling lack of aesthetic value. And if it smelled like hobo piss at the time of purchase, all the better.

So the game. The game was at Dolphin Stadium, not 20 minutes from the apartment, though the spectacle unfolding on my television made it seem as if it were taking place on another planet. Earlier in the broadcast, during the pre-game show, members of the French-Canadian terrorist organization Cirque du Soleil did some frightening things with elbows and pantaloons, and the man who ate Billy Joel performed the National Anthem without, to my surprise, breaking into “We Didn’t Start the Fire” halfway through. And then, the ball was on the 30-yard line, the score was whatever it was and I, naively and reflexively, uttered the following confession to my brother:

“You know, I sure am glad I turned down tickets to this game.”

My brother is not a graceful creature. He is taller than I am, and at the time, his post-Naval exercise routine involved little more than driving bibulous, saddle-sore women home from country bars at 4 in the morning. I have long teased him that he walks like a duck, and he, in turn, has told me I remind him of Sasquatch. Why is none of your business. (For the sake of familial unity, I will share that my brother has gotten his body and act in shape since then. Hi, Joe!)

But at the moment my confession reached his ears, he may as well have been Usain Bolt. With an alacrity I’d never seen in him, my brother set the chair upright, sprang to his feet and bounded across the living room.

“You did what?” he shouted, disbelief spreading across his face.

“I turned down free Super Bowl tickets. So what? Look at that nonsense,” I said, pointing at the television. “Would you want to be there?”

“Of course I would!” he shouted. “Are you fucking kidding me? It’s the Super Bowl. Someone offered you free tickets and you turned them down? Are you fucking serious?”

“Yeah, I turned them down. I didn’t even think about it. Someone offered them to me and I said, ‘No thanks. Give them to someone who likes football.’ ”

“I like football, you asshole!” he yelled. “This has to be the stupidest thing you’ve ever done.”

I admit now that it may have been one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. And like many, if not all, of the foolish errors I have committed in my lifetime, I made this one without thinking. It went down like this: A friend’s firm had given its employees two tickets each to the Super Bowl. She didn’t want them and offered them to me. I told her I didn’t want them, either, hung up the phone and went back to eating my sandwich or whatever menial act I considered to be vastly more important than accepting tickets to a crowded contest in what I’ve long considered to be an overrated, unexciting sport. (Conversely, I’m a die-hard baseball fan who finds the best games can be a thing of beauty, like a Van Gogh painting or a Neko Case song.)

The concept of halftime puzzles me, and timeouts try my patience like Sarah Palin in a comparative-religion class. This doesn’t make me better than those people who love football. Nor does it make me worse. It doesn’t make me anything other than a man who doesn’t care all that much for the game. (Here’s the part where I brush aside questions of masculinity, a concept that depends not on something so trivial as a man’s appreciation for pigskin but on matters of real consequence, such as character and integrity. And also a wide appetite for chili and the songs of Waylon Jennings.)

My brother grabbed his cell phone and raged into his bedroom. Over the sound of the game, I caught snatches of his conversation: “Dumb asshole.” “I can’t believe it.” “I’ve never been so pissed off at him.” “Yeah, later.”

There was a pause and then he started up again. “You’re not going to believe what Jake did.” “Moron.” “Dickhead.” “I know, I know.”

My own cell phone rang. It was my other brother, Josh. I couldn’t even get out a “hello” before he started in with me. “Is Joe serious? Did you really give away Super Bowl tickets?” I did. “Are you serious?” Yes. “Schmuck.” I love you, too.

Joe, who had taken his rant into the bathroom, was alerting someone else to my unpardonable sin.

My phone rang again. Dan, a family friend and die-hard Miami Dolphins fan who lives in Georgia, speaking as calmly as possible, told me, “You don’t know how badly I want to drive to Fort Lauderdale right now and kick you in the balls.”

The calls continued: more friends, my brother-in-law, our dad, even our mom. The call from my mom was the worst. “Son, is what your brother told me true?” It is, I confessed.

Now, here’s where your mom would tell you that you should have thought of your brothers before turning down the tickets, that at the very least you could have accepted them and given them to a co-worker or your boss. But not my mom. My mom heard my answer and giggled so knowingly at my breach of All-American, NFL-genuflecting etiquette that I would have preferred Dan’s foot in my balls. When your own mom laughs at you for turning down Super Bowl tickets, you know you’ve done something wrong.

So that’s how I came to be, for at least several weeks, a pariah within my own family, an embarrassment to my friends and the loneliest contrarian on Earth. I can no longer hear the words Super Bowl, Peyton Manning or Antiquarian Berrian without thinking of that evening, when the ball was on the 30-yard line, the score was 14-6, the Indianapolis Colts were on their way to winning the championship and I didn’t know better than to keep my damn mouth shut.

Nonetheless, I sure am glad I’m not going anywhere near that game next Sunday.

Contact Jake Cline at

This story was originally published Jan. 28, 2010.

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