Football IQ: my quest to take it higher

I am a football geek. My goal is to elevate my football IQ to as high as possible in this lifetime. Admittedly, this is an odd pursuit, especially for a middle-aged goober like me. Crochet or shuffleboard would be so much easier, right? And it’s not a life ambition that I’d exactly planned on. In some ways, it feels like it came on rather suddenly. However, as I reflect back on it, there’s actually been a slow and steady build to get here.

I grew up in Oklahoma, where football is basically church. One vivid childhood memory is of my mother sitting in her rocking chair, knitting at a brisk clip and watching the Dallas Cowboys. Occasionally, the game action would distract her, and she’d drop a stitch. After a quick fix and a “dammit,” she’d pick right up again, knitting and yelling at the television. Years later, I attended the University of Oklahoma, a quintessential football school. It was during the Barry Switzer era. On game days, Norman, Oklahoma was one giant tailgate party. Transferring to the University of Iowa, I became more of a basketball fan, first at the college level and then professional, following the Lakers for a few years. After that, I was obsessed with hockey; my ex-husband and I even had season tickets to the Seattle Thunderbirds. About 12 years ago, I came back around to football and went all in with the Seattle Seahawks. I suppose my history suggests that I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to sports. But I truly believe that football is home.

The transformation from casual fan to dedicated student of the sport started about six or so years ago. At the time, one of my kids had left the proverbial nest and the other chose to live with her father full-time. This transitional period was rough for me; I didn’t know who I was anymore or what exactly to do with my life. Although it wasn’t conscious at the time, I believe I used football to fill the lonely void. I started to watch a lot of games beyond the Seahawks. Although I had a firm grasp of the basics, I wanted to learn the more technical aspects of the sport. I figured a better understanding of what I was seeing on the field would enhance my experience and also help me connect with other fans on a more substantial level. And so it began.

Sundays are 100% devoted to football. The fan watches the Seahawks play, and the student watches all the others.  Games are like classrooms. When you don’t have an emotional attachment to the outcome, it’s much easier to study what’s going on. On occasional Friday nights, I attend local high school football games. The vibe is always fun, and it’s another opportunity to watch and learn. I also catch Monday and Thursday night NFL games whenever possible, hitting a neighborhood sports bar to view anything that’s not on major networks. If an opportunity presents itself, I’ll chat it up with another fan, gleaning whatever I can from his/her insights and opinions.

I listen to sports radio and podcasts. For a few years, 710 ESPN was part of my morning ritual, and the Brock and Salk show was my go-to for all things football and Seahawks. Unfortunately, the radio in my car has been little wonky this season, so I’m listening to less sports radio. But I do follow podcasts. There are a lot of really great ones out there. My current favorite is Real Hawk Talk on HawkBlogger, with Brian Newhauser, Evan Hill, Nathan Ernst and Jeff Simmons – four very knowledgeable (and pretty funny) guys, talking about the Seahawks. They usually do a quick post-analysis after the games and then take a deeper dive on their weekly Wednesday night episodes, reviewing the last game and discussing the upcoming one. I catch them on YouTube, and it feels like hanging out with friends. It’s casual, accessible and a lot of fun. And I definitely learn a lot from these guys. Side note: Brock and Salk have recently moved from a daily radio show to a weekly Tuesday podcast.

Reading has also bolstered my understanding of the game. John Clayton, NFL writer and host on 710 ESPN, was taking questions on his show one day, so I asked about elevating my football IQ. He suggested “Take Your Eye off the Ball” by Pat Kerwin. This was really helpful, but some chapters were a little over my head. I read “Football for Dummies” by Howie Long, which filled in some of the missing pieces for me and allowed me to go back to the Kerwin book more equipped to digest some of the concepts I’d previously struggled with. Other reading includes the sports section of the Seattle Times- I love Bob Condotta and Larry Stone, in particular- and various articles that come across on social media. Most recently, I’ve subscribed to the Pro Football Focus email list. If I’ve learned anything about football these past year it’s that stats are everything.

Twitter has been really useful in my efforts to elevate my football IQ. I follow several sports writers. Their insights are golden, and their takes are often entertaining. If I’m able to multitask enough to track them during a game, their ongoing observations are enormously helpful on a lot of levels. They can help me understand anything that confuses me. They can also confirm that I did indeed see what I thought I saw. (It’s one thing to study the sport. It’s quite another to identify schemes, etc. in real time.) Finally, the online community they create offers a sense camaraderie, although I’m usually shy about interacting. My imposter syndrome gets the best of me, and I’m afraid of saying something banal. But I know I need to get past that. If I want to learn, I have to be willing to push beyond my comfort zone, even if it means asking a stupid question.

As I touched on earlier, I’ve learned a lot from fellow fans. Several of my friends are football diehards and have taught me a lot over the years. My friend Nate had me playing Madden for a while. It was a useful educational tool. Sadly, my lack of gaming skills and hand dexterity frequently got in the way of forward progress. Another friend, Reuel, subscribes to Game Pass and does a weekly breakdown of the coaches’ film. One evening, I was fortunate to watch some film with him. This particular viewing session schooled me on the important role of the tight end.

The more I study football, the more I realize how much more there is to learn. It’s a complex game with a lot of nuances. I could probably spend the rest of my life studying just one position group and still not even cover all there is to know about that. Sometimes it feels like my desire to cultivate a sophisticated football IQ is like crushing on a love interest who is forever out of my league. It’s even superseded other life passions. I wonder if I’m crazy or if this is all futile. There’s only so much one can expect from an aging reptilian brain like mine. But despite all the doubts, there’s this: I’m actually learning. Slowly but surely, it’s sinking in. I see and understand things that were previously a mystery to me. That alone is deeply satisfying and inspires me to continue. I’ll be a lifelong student of football. But if I’m able to graduate from even elementary to middle school, I’ll die a happy fan.

Follow on Twitter: