Today is a tense day in our household. The Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers are both set to play separate games in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.
Your mother is from Pennsylvania, and the ring I gave her when I asked her to be my partner in life ranks #7 on her list of favorite rings. I’m a Cardinals fan. She makes me keep my cell phone on vibrate because “I haven’t earned a ring yet.”
Today could go REALLY well for us, or REALLY bad. You’ll be asleep by the time the Steelers game is over. If you wake up to pancakes, bacon and freshly squeezed orange juice on Sunday, you’ll know all is well in Steeler country. If there’s a Power Bar and a Capri Sun waiting on the table for you… well, tread lightly.
There will come a time when you boys are dating someone, and the relationship reaches that point where you ask yourself “is someone I could spend the rest of my life with?” When that decision time comes, I want you to consider these 6 rules for marrying a sports fan.
1. Don’t marry someone who says that they “don’t like sports.”
You can’t be a sports fan and commit your life to a person who actively doesn’t like sports (This rule presupposes that you’ll be sports fans. Your mother and I could very well ruin that for you on a day like today). Can you marry someone who is ambivalent toward sports- sure, but the person you’re with needs to do more than tolerate your interests, they should actively show an appreciation. If you wouldn’t hang out with a kid on the playground who didn’t like dinosaur trivia, or thought watching Guardians of the Galaxy was “a waste of time,” then don’t say “I do” to someone who thinks that keeping a mental list of the top 10 SportsCenter anchors of all time is pathologically disturbing.
2. You have to have at least one team in common.
This is a must, and another reason it pays to go to college. If you meet your significant other anywhere other than the campus of University of Phoenix online, you have yourself a built in allegiance. Your mother and I are both Sun Devils, and Arizona State University football is our common ground. I’d argue that there are a couple of ways around this rule, such as waiting until you have kids, and then putting them in sports and letting that team be your shared rooting interest, but that’s a big risk. What if your kids don’t show an interest in playing sports? Another way around this would be to have a team that you both hate. I’m not a fan of having a negative feeling as a bonding agent, but a shared interest is a shared interest. I’m willing to bet people meet and fall in love at political protests all the time, so an anti-San Antonio Spurs fan forum is certainly an appropriate place to go looking for love.
3. Find out where they got their allegiance from.
Don’t accept your partner’s fandom at face value. If they like a team, find out why. Was it inherited fandom? Regional? Did they start following a team because they were introduce to that team by an ex? If they did, is that the same team you root for? If not, they better convert or keep stepping. Don’t let them bring their ex’s team into your relationship. Also, pay attention if they suddenly bandwagon a team that you weren’t previously aware they had an allegiance to. I thought after seven years of being together that I had finally convinced your mother to get into baseball. She started watching Arizona Diamondbacks games and even coming out to the stadium with me. It turns out, they had an infielder that she particularly enjoyed watching play. When he left in 2012, she went back to thinking baseball was “boring.” I’m not faulting her for this, it’s the same reason I’ve taken a sudden interest in the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock, but you don’t want to mistakenly assume that the team you have in common (see rule 2) was something more than their crush on a utility infielder.
4. Observe how they take a loss (and how they handle you taking a loss).
This is important. As a fan of Wyoming collegiate athletics, and all sports collegiate and professional in Arizona, I can definitively say that losing is not only part of the game, sometimes it feels like the only part. Athletes often operate by what they call the “24 hour rule,” where you get one day to celebrate a win, or grieve a loss, before it’s time to focus on whatever’s next. My hope for you is that you’re the kind of boys who can take a loss for what it is and move on, whether you’re the athlete in the scenario, or playing the role of a fan. Still, losing sucks, and you need a few minutes to sort through all the crazy emotions that come along with it. The feeling of your team losing, especially at the last second, is like wrapping all of puberty’s ups and downs into one five minute span. It’s awful. One of the things I love most about my wife is how she handles defeat. When Tim Tebow had his Angels in the Outfield moment and led the Denver Broncos to a playoff upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers, she stood up, left the room, and returned a few minutes later having already turned the page. Did she then subsequently call every GM in the NFL and have Tebow systematically blackballed from the NFL? Maybe. But still, she handled the defeat without kicking the dog, flipping any cars, or most importantly, taking it out on the rest of us. Moreover, when I’m mourning a loss, she never throws the “it’s just a game” grenade my way. Those are the worst. Give your partner space to handle a loss, and ask for the same. In some arrangements, this isn’t possible. That’s probably because you married a fan of a team with a built-in historical rivalry. Those moments require lots gloating and rubbing in of the pain. Which reminds me…
5. Don’t marry a fan of a rival team.
Just don’t do it.
6. Your partner dictates the child’s allegiance (until they can choose for themselves).
The oldest of you had been on this earth only six months when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals met in the Super Bowl. It meant everything to me that the first time my team played on the world’s biggest stage, I got to share the moment with my oldest son. I was thrilled at the prospect of outfitting our infant in red and white, and holding him in my lap all game long as a tiny, unknowing good luck charm. After all, the Cardinals never made the Super Bowl before his birth, and I refuse to believe that those two monumental events were coincidental. My wife didn’t allow it. She even broke out the “I pushed him out of me, I say what he wears,” trump card. The Steelers won, and while I often wonder if allowing my son to wear black and yellow affected the outcome of the game, I don’t regret bending to the wishes of the love of my life. Plus, right after Santonio Holmes made the improbable catch that sealed the Steelers sixth championship, my son immediately filled his diaper. A true Cardinals fan indeed, even if he isn’t allowed to dress like one yet.
Of course these are just suggestions. Marry whoever you want. Or don’t get married. Any Chicago Cubs fan will tell you you don’t need a ring to be happy.