The question was put by a conscientious hostess: Must the food fed to football fans always be so boring?
The answer all around was yes.
The food-conscious hostess, surrounded by hundreds of cookbooks, nosing through delicatessen and supermarket like neolithic man on the trail of the Wooly Mammoth, finds it hard to conceive of a party where food is not the major event. The football fanatic, on the other hand, favors pigskin over pork chops.
The rule for football food is simple: hand to mouth action should never interfere with eye to screen contact. Food that requires attention from the eater will not receive it. This eliminates soups, unless they are served in mugs that can be raised to the lips and sipped, anything that needs peeling (a bowl of oranges is a bad idea, a bowl of apples a good one), food containing fiddly little bones or seeds that could, unless one is careful, catch in the throat and require an emergency trip to the hospital and the loss of the fourth quarter. And anything served in a tippy container.
Part of the fun of watching a football game is cheering the home team. Cheering the home team means jumping up and down when something good happens and throwing things when someone drops the ball. Anything in the vicinity of the TV set that can tip over probably will.
That leaves us with peppermint sticks, gum drops and sandwiches. And of course cookies and chips and pretzels, food that football fans have been thriving on for decades. There is a reason that these items have persisted as football food and it should be understood by those hostesses who mistakenly think that they can serve a proper meal at half time.
Proponents of the sit-down luncheon find it hard to believe that the guests will mind if the meal edges over into the third quarter. The guests will mind.
The fan prefers not to have to leave the TV set at all, and though occasionally one or two will quit the room long enough to throw a football around in the backyard, more often they will stay exactly where they are, arguing over a referee's call or sitting entranced as bands march by and a salesman touts the wonders of a sporty car.
This is not as mindless as it looks. Players get psyched up for the battle, concentrating their attention on the game until it is stuck as tight as a tick; fans do the same thing.
A really thoughtful hostess does not interfere. Having invited friends to her home for an afternoon of football, she lets football have the field. Well, of course, you might say, that is obvious. But to some it is not. There are those who look on a football game as a variant on the Academy Awards or a presidential debate. Guests are to come and giggle at the excesses of actors or politicians.
Football is more serious than movies; football is more serious than politics. Football is not something fans like to laugh at.
That is why you should serve the following meal: Sandwiches, and not just the makings set out so that people can help themselves, but sandwiches already made up (although you can put out extra mayonnaise, catsup, mustard and horseradish sauce) and in sufficient variety that everyone will find something to like.
Ham sandwiches and cheese sandwiches and salami sandwiches and sandwiches stuffed with meatloaf or with cold, roast pork.
Sandwiches that are served on a variety of very good breads, spread with butter and stuffed with just enough filling to provide a goodly mouthful without squirting out onto someone's lap.
There should be individual baskets lined with napkins and filled with a mixture of potato chips, pretzels, pickles and any other snack foods which appeal. (Individual baskets because a fan does not like to have to get up and the only passing that will be done is on the field.)
If the specter of The Balanced Diet does not allow you to serve a meal without a vegetable, put a cherry tomato on each plate. (Paper, since the plates will be set down on the floor and when a touchdown occurs people will jump up and down on them.)
And for dessert, serve a platter or two of cookies and brownies. Football food is the kind of food you ate in high school back in the days when no one knew what a nitrite was and jelly beans had a food group all their own.
Since football fans occasionally live with people who are not football fans, the canny hostess will lay in a supply of spring bulbs. At some point, when the nonfanatical guests begin to show signs of boredom, she will suggest a short walk in the garden. Once there, she will stumble across a bag of daffodils and remember that she had planned to plant them.
With a trowel or two, a bag of bone meal and a few guests who would uproot a giant oak rather than return to the 50-yard line, she will find that she has not only provided a pleasant outing for football fans, she has gotten her fall planting done, too.