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All over the United States, millions of people struggle with a not-so-secret addiction: football fandom. While this addiction can be devastating for those afflicted, it can also take a toll on those who live with, and love, a football fan. Although I am not a football fan, I have extensive experience in identifying football fans after a lifetime spent as a daughter, sister, and most recently, wife to men suffering this social disease. Part one of this two-part Handy Dandy Guide will provide a basic framework for understanding football fandom and its devastating effects, focusing on what non-addicts currently understand about football and outlining the three most disturbing behaviors you may witness in a football fan.

The Basics: What is Football?

Though it is best for non-fans to maintain their distance from football in order to not encourage the fans in their lives, it can be helpful to have some understanding of football. This will enable to you to better spot the warning signs and, if you find yourself trapped by football fans under the influence, to ensure your safety while looking for a quick and safe exit from the situation.

Football is what is known as a team sport. (Note: If outside of the United States, soccer is called football and football is called American football. This can be viewed as threatening to a football fan. Under no circumstances allow a football fan to engage in a discussion of which sport is better, especially if visiting the United Kingdom.) Football is typically played by large, burly men wearing pads, helmets and garish colors. While all teams have their own signature combination of colors, sometimes they will substitute white jerseys, or, on occasion, even more garish colors known inexplicably as “throwback” jerseys. It is assumed by anthropologists specializing in the study of football that the white jerseys are an attempt to intimidate opponents by increasing players’ perceived size, though this has not been verified by field-testing. The exact reason for the “throwback” jersey has not been determined, and interestingly enough it seems to cause consternation amongst football fans when displayed.

The game is played with an oval ball which may be thrown, kicked, or simply picked up and run with according to a set of arcane and ambiguous rules understood only by football fans. Football is scored using points, which can be obtained in a variety of increments. Common point increments are: six, three, one and, rarely, two. (Although it may appear possible to score seven points, I have been assured by fans that this is not the case.) Though a fan’s reaction to any points scored can be unpredictable and alarming, if you hear the word “safety” used you should seek shelter immediately. You run the risk of being caught in an extreme display of anger, which, while breathtaking to behold, drastically reduces nearby fans’ tolerance of research questions such as “wait, what just happened?”

There are two distinct types of football. The first is professional (or “pro” in addict-speak) football. Professional football teams are typically centered around large urban areas, and may have a vocal fanbase in the surrounding geographic region. It is wise to be aware of which teams are popular in which regions and to avoid bars on Sundays when on vacation in unfamiliar cities. When encountering an unknown football fan, under no circumstances make assumptions about which team he or she follows based on his or her geographic location. Fans seem predisposed to caring about the team closest to where they spent their childhood; incorrectly identifying them as a a fan of an opposing team can cause aggression and outrage. Professional football is usually played on Sundays, but may be seen on Mondays, Thursdays, and occasionally Saturdays. It is assumed that football pushers, such as ESPN, do this to deepen the addiction.

The second type of football is known as college football, and is only found in a university setting. College football is played exclusively by teams made up of university students. It is usually played on Saturdays, and the pre-game party, or tailgate, can be an integral part in the mating rituals of college-aged football fans. These rituals include excessive alcohol consumption and the display of the favorite team’s garish colors in order to easily identify potential mates. Female college-aged fans may engage in the time-honored mating call,  a high-pitched “woooo,” after several alcoholic beverages. College fans engage in “rivalries,” which appear to have more to do with the opposing universities’ locations than the objective quality of the teams involved. Individuals attending rival schools have been known to brutally insult the intelligence, sexuality, and attractiveness of the opposing school’s students, so do not be alarmed at such displays. Unless you are displaying the opposing team’s colors, you are in no danger. A word for parents: It is considered cool in some universities to dabble in football fandom, so do not be alarmed if your college-age children begin to show the warning signs. Much like Libertarianism, it will most likely run its course once the individual leaves the university and finds other interests.

Football fandom peaks during football season, which begins in early autumn and runs through January. College and professional football run on different schedules; make no attempt to determine the difference. The end of the football season brings championship games (college) and playoffs (professional). These times can be exciting for football fans whose teams are playing, and devastating for those whose teams are not. The professional football season culminates in an event known as the Superbowl, a combination of a football game, overpriced advertising, and a musical act well past its prime known to many as the halftime show. We can only assume that the musical act is an attempt to attract non-football fans, however, the poor selection of the acts demonstrates how far out of touch with reality many football pushers are.

Football is played in a large, bowl-shaped structure known as a stadium. Football fans will pay large sums of money to sit on uncomfortable chairs exposed to the elements in order to watch football games live. Some will even bring tents and camp in front of the stadium in an effort to “score” tickets. Oddly enough, many municipalities and even universities turn a blind eye to the existence of these dens of inequity. If you live in an area that contains a stadium, it is wise to be aware of the days and times of football games and to avoid the stadium and surrounding areas during those dangerous hours, as fans will be running rampant.

One strange aspect of football is the existence of individuals known as referees. Referees are easily distinguished from others by the garb of a black-and-white striped polo shirt and oddly-fitting white trousers. These strange creatures hold a certain powers over the game, determining which team is allowed to start each play with the ball, citing players for disorderly conduct, and having the mysterious power of being able to “call back” plays in rare situations. While they appear to be reviled by fans and players alike, they have shown no interest in adopting more brightly-colored uniforms in order to better camouflage themselves among the players. It can only be assumed that they exist in an odd (though not entirely welcome) symbiotic relationship with the teams since, even though most referees apear frail enough to be severely injured by an enraged rogue linebacker, referee injury not only rarely occurs but results in serious repercussions for the player who causes it.

Interestingly, when televising football games many football pushers choose to provide narration by a select group of anthropologists known as commentators. These commentators provide basic and repetitive explanations of the football game as it happens, so that non-football fans can better understand what their loved ones are going through while watching a game. Their existence seems to anger many dedicated football fans, perhaps because they do not view their addiction as something that needs outside explanation. One exception to this hatred appears to be the retired commentator John Madden, who, in an act of extreme bravery, went under cover early in life to both play and coach football. This extensive field research has made him a non-threatening persona amongst most football fans and provided him with the knowledge and ability to explain the nuances of football to non-fans (specifically, by providing clear indications such as “boy, that play was not good for [Team Name]”). Unfortunately, it seems to have addled his ability to construct meaningful sentences and left him with an odd craving for a dish known as turducken.

Football Fandom: A Profile of the Disease

While many football fans will claim they enjoy it the detriment to their mood and outlook is obvious to even the most novice observer. Football fandom is more devastating than our society would like us to believe, and can lead to anti-social behavior such as wearing team colors in public, picking a favorite player, and, in extreme cases, the tattooing of football mascots, slogans, or numbers on the body. As horrifying as these behaviors are, three main syndromes have the most impact on a fan’s quality of life. These are:

Football Mania: This is most noticeable when a football addict’s team of choice wins a game. The primary symptom is inexplicable elation following viewing a football game, though your loved one may show signs of football mania if he or she is complementing players on the team of choice. (It is helpful to have a passing familiarity with names of players on his or her team in order to identify this state.) While football mania can be alarming it is usually harmless and will disappear within a few days or if the team loses, so you may choose to simply ride it out while it lasts. Be on the lookout for the more dangerous form of football mania, which occurs most often when the football fan begins complementing his or her team’s head coach. While regular football mania will usually pass quickly, complementing the coach is often a sign of extreme mania and an impending crash into football depression. Fans are particularly susceptible to dangerous levels of mania if their team is in the playoffs or a championship game. It is almost certain to occur if the team plays in the Superbowl.

Football Depression: Football depression is typically seen following a the loss of a game by the football fan’s team of choice. While sadness can occur, it usually appears as anger and sullen silence for days and weeks at a time. A more severe form of football depression occurs when a team has what is known amongst addicts as a losing record – when a team has scored fewer points than the opposing team in the majority of games played during the football season. Severe football depression can drive the football fan to make statements indicating that they are finished with their addition, but do not be fooled. This is simply a blind, the addict will be watching the next game his or her team plays regardless of how often he or she states otherwise. Football depression is extremely common if the addict’s team does not play in the playoffs and in the football-less months known as off-season. It is interesting to note that fans who follow the football team known as the Patriots seem to be impervious to football depression, excepting a brief outbreak following the 2008 Superbowl. Reasons for this immunity are unknown, but Patriot quarterback Tom Brady’s ability to impregnate supermodels is believed to play a role.

Football Delusion: This is possibly the most acute and dangerous side effect of football fandom, and is considered by some to be a heightened form of football depression. Signs include: shouting advice at the television during the game (also known as Horror Movie Syndrome), claiming that he or she would make a better head coach than “that asshole,” slandering players of either team, and lamenting a particular player’s lack of skill. In extreme cases, a male fan may even suggest that he would make a better quarterback/receiver/tight end/running back than a player causing him anguish. If you witness football delusion, do nothing to dissuade the football fan of his or her beliefs until well after the episode has passed, as mental stability is highly questionable. Note: Screaming obscenities at referees is considered a normal and acceptable part of football fandom and thus is not an indicator of football delusion.

This concludes part one of the Handy Dandy Guide: Living With a Football Fan. We will return next Monday to discuss identifying a football fan and coping with having a football fan in your life.