While December is usually seen as pre-Christmas or pre-Holidays time, December is also football month in the U.S. This is the time when high school teams battle their way to state titles, plenty of NFL teams have had their hopes for a play-off berth crushed, and the play-offs in fantasy football leagues have started. So while plenty of people are worried about buying the perfect gift and decorating their home, I am keeping track of the health of my players. Apps on my cell phone keep me updated on the status of each player on my teams – yes, I have several fantasy teams. Last week, I received a message on my phone while in the office – Cam Newton was in a car accident and potentially out for the week or longer. In my mind, I tried to come up with a worst-case scenario – can I survive this play-off week with my back-up quarterback or do I have to try a trade and find a replacement?
I truly believe that my knowledge about football and my participation in fantasy football leagues has made the integration into American culture easier. When I grew up in Austria, football had not been heard of and was not shown on TV. I actually learned the rules of football and football strategy from Joe Montana – yes, that Joe Montana. But it is not that glamorous; I learned the rules of football by playing Sega Game Gear Joe Montana Football before I have had ever seen an American football game on TV or live. Playing the game, I slowly figured out the rules of football – the importance of first downs, the scoring system, the necessity to punt from time to time, and more. And my favorite play became Pray for Rain as it was called in the game – it always seemed to work in Sega Game Gear. I was disappointed to learn later on when I started to watch football with Americans that the play was more commonly referred to as Hail Mary and no coach in his right mind will call it at least two times in a quarter as I successfully did in Sega Game Gear. (I still think I might be on to something with my strategy – the defense seemed to never be ready for another Pray for Rain in my experience.)
When I spent my first summer and fall in the U.S., I lived in Pittsburgh, PA. My football knowledge helped me connect with Americans quickly (as did my knowledge about baseball, which I learned by watching a dubbed version of Bad News Bears on Austrian TV as a child – but that is a story for another time). I quickly learned that Americans love their home team, especially in Pittsburgh, and my football knowledge and interest led to plenty of acquaintances and free tickets. It seemed everyone I knew in Pittsburgh was ready to make sure “the foreigner” would have a great football experience, so I even received free tickets to a sold-out Monday-night game of the Steelers. And even though I moved in the end to California, the first impression stuck, and if someone asks me about my home team, I always name the Steelers.
Now, I have adopted fantasy football as a fall ritual. I like the fantasy drafts that mark the end of summer; I enjoy the competitiveness and the connections created amongst team owners in the different leagues throughout fall. I have learned more about statistics, players’ health, and difficulty of schedules than I ever thought possible. And I learned that watching games without worrying about how my fantasy players are doing is not as much fun. All that started because I picked up a game by Joe Montana and was too stubborn to put it down even though I had no clue about the rules of the game when I first started.
PS: While procrastinating during Finals Week, I found this great website – it lets me play the Sega Game online, which is great since I still have the game itself but long ago lost the Sega Game Gear handheld console on one of my moves. Here is the link to the site: http://game-oldies.com/play-online/joe-montana-s-football-sega-game-gear#