In my house, I'm outnumbered. If a baseball game is on the tube, they no longer even take votes. Democracy is out and the baseball game is tuned in. Soon my husband and my two sons can be heard conversing about things known as ribbies, and the next thing you know they are engaged in serious debates about the relative athletic merits of people I've never heard of. Masters and Johnson may have saved some marriages; a second TV set saves ours.
I am married to someone who has a better excuse than most men for watching televised sports, since he gets paid to write about sports for a daily newspaper. "Look," he'll say, with a perfectly straight face, "I don't give a bleep about the game but I'm probably going to have to cover them next week, so I should watch it." How can you fight that?
In fairness, however, the record should show that he is better about watching televised football games than some men who take up residence in front of the television in early September and don't get up until the end of the Super Bowl. I distinctly remember one year, back in the mid-'70s, when he came outside and helped me rake leaves during a Redskins game. He's brokered with it ever since. Each year when I've had it up to here with football, my husband will reach back into his past: "What other man do you know who raked leaves during a Redskins game?"
The record should also show that early on in our marriage we reached an unwritten accord that he was not expected to know anything about sewing and I was not expected to know anything about football. I have faithfully executed my part of the agreement.
Given the above, one could expect a certain jubilation from my corner at the news that the players had decided to strike and that there will be fewer -- and maybe no -- football games conspiring with baseball to create a sports monopoly on the television in the living room. Think of it: Monday nights without Howard Cosell. Monday nights without my husband (and from what I understand, millions of other people's husbands) arguing with the television: "You're wrong, Howard. That's not what happened." Suddenly, Monday night possession of the better TV again is an open contest. Suddenly, American males are available for something besides football on Sunday afternoon.
I can see women across the country today busily drawing up lists of household projects to be done this fall. The minute that I heard there was going to be a strike, visions of new flower beds danced in my head. All across America, I can see kitchen floors being replaced, bedrooms being painted, cabinets being refinished, windows being cleaned, and rooms being rearranged.
But fall won't be the same. Even those of us who dislike the game, or who pay no attention to it, will sense its absence. It is more than a vicarious outlet for aggressions and it does more than entertain. It does more than provide a source of income for owners who are already rich, and for the extraordinary athletes who play the game. It allows people to get involved with a team, to feel a certain sense of community at a time when there are few ties that bind and many forces that separate. Canadian League football games may fill the airtime on NBC, but who will care who wins? When the Redskins win, it gives people pleasure.
When individual players do something remarkable, lesser mortals give praise. There is something thrilling about an athlete, any athlete, who stretches his talents to limits the rest of us can only dream of. Who among us wasn't delighted to see an aging kicker, about to be replaced by a younger player, win back his job in a storybook triumph? The game has given its followers something to root for and, at times, people to be proud of.
And that's not all. Across America on Sunday afternoons, fathers and sons, and sometimes mothers, friends and neighbors take up seats side by side in front of the television. They argue about plays, shout at referees, denounce announcers, demand the coach's resignation, savage the quarterbacks, and leap out of their chairs at touchdowns. To those of us in other rooms, it may seem silly the way they get carried away, but it's something that fathers and sons and friends can argue about that doesn't really matter, something they can share that gives them enjoyment. It is time that people spend together.
And raking leaves just won't be the same.