By Susie Stageberg
Autumn is a sort of bittersweet season: the heat of summer is gone, but winter is waiting in the wings. The lazy summer schedule gives way to the jam-packed autumn, school-year rhythm. The leaves fall and crackle delightfully under my feet, but I have to get up and go to work in the dark. There is, however, one autumn pleasure with no downside: football! Autumn weekends can be spent in a comfortable chair, a chosen beverage at hand, maybe a cozy blanket or a beloved pet for company, following the exploits of your favorite team. Weekdays can be spent wondering about the next opponent, perusing the latest injury report, and razzing your coworkers who follow teams not your own.
People are often astonished that I, a blind woman, enjoy football. First of all, conventional wisdom holds that women do not like football. Advertisers have swallowed this myth whole: commercials during football games are definitely aimed at men—beer, cars, insurance, and certain pharmaceuticals that only men use. The phrase “man up” is liberally sprinkled through these ads. I ignore them when possible.
And then there is the blindness thing: how can a blind person enjoy a televised football game? Or a radio broadcast, for that matter? Football is complex; it can be hard to follow all the different formations and strategies. It’s hard to understand.
I admit to being a bit smug when such talk comes up. I understand most of what goes on in a football game. I have a secret weapon: my dad.
My dad, an avid sportsman and sports fan, thought his daughters should understand football. On autumn Sundays our family watched the weekly televised game (there was only one in those days) together. One such Sunday afternoon my dad called me over and said, “Come here; I want to show you what’s going on on the field.” He took eleven pennies and lined them up on the tabletop: a row of seven in the front, a single penny in the second row, and a row of three behind the single one. “This one,” he said, indicating the lone penny in the second row, “is the quarterback. The center, this guy here,” (the middle penny in the first row) “passes, or snaps, the ball to the quarterback…”
And so it went. He ran plays using the pennies until I got the idea. Of course, football has evolved since those days. Now there are wishbone, shotgun, wildcat and pistol offensive formations, and nickel, dime, zone and 4-3 defenses. The ball is thrown, or passed, much more often, which brings about some pretty fancy formations and strategies. But based on that first lesson, 40-some years ago, I mostly understand what’s going on. And when I don’t, I ask one of my sons, or my husband. My husband and I cheer for rival NFL teams, so I’m careful not to ask too many questions when his team is playing against mine. (Mine won the most recent such contest.)
All this is to say that sometimes the solution to making something accessible isn’t high tech or expensive. My dad also took me to the hardware store and showed me wing nuts and drawer pulls and Phillips head screwdrivers. How fortunate I am to have been given all this information about the world. But on autumn weekends, I am most grateful that my dad had eleven pennies in his pocket.