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'Tis the football season

An English rose in Georgia

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POSTED: October 5, 2011 5:30 p.m.
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Columnist Lesley Francis tands in the Jaguars' stadium in Jacksonville.

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OK, so now I finally “get it.” I am beginning to understand the importance of football to many Americans – and certainly to many people in our community.
Last weekend, I went to my first football game. We went to Jacksonville to see the New Orleans Saints win against the Jaguars (and learned Americans pronounce this “jag-wire” rather than the English way of “jag-u-wah”).
Wow! Once again I was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm, patriotism, size, razz-mattaz and family atmosphere surrounding this other great American sport (I have grown to love the other one – baseball).
To share my first impressions on this NFL game:
• Tailgating – It turns a game into an all-day party, and how great it was to see whole families and friends enjoy the day together.
• How can four quarters each of 15 minutes last more three hours? The stopping of the clock and time out confused me, but my (usually) patient husband made sense of it for me – bless him.
• How big and brave are those players? They may have helmets and padding, but my goodness they really need it.
• The good-natured rivalry between opposing fans that is not hostile but just loud support – I particularly enjoyed some of the fans’ costumes, which ranged from jaguar ears and teal blue outfits for the home team and outrageous gold body painting and Mardi-Gras beads from Saints fans.
• The cheerleaders, marching band and team mascot (Jaxson the Jaguar, in this case) make it so much fun and a real occasion for all ages.
• The singing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” the flyover by a military aircraft and the honoring of the military all made me very proud to have been accepted as a resident by my husband’s country.
When we first moved to Coastal Georgia, I did not appreciate the importance and impact of football in our community. The first time I wore red and black to a social event, I was very confused by the assumption that I was a Georgia Bulldogs supporter, and the subsequent discussion left me baffled – especially when it incorporated tales of Uga the bulldog and Vince Dooley. Of course, now I am keen to experience college football and especially to see the Georgia Bulldogs play.
“Football” means something different in the U.K. because our football is what Americans call soccer. The closest thing we English have to American football is rugby, which is played with an oval ball and which itself evolved from soccer. England is considered to be the origin of both types of football, and records of the games have been found in the country of my birth from as early as the 12th century.
Rugby was played between 1750 and 1859 at Rugby School – one of the English upper-class boy’s schools. At this time, hundreds of boys would play against each other in a very rough game that often caused serious injury.
“American football” evolved from early versions of rugby when a football was kicked at a goal or run over a line.
There are many British people, predominantly men, who support a soccer team, but unfortunately hooliganism has tainted the family atmosphere of English football games that my father enjoyed as a boy.
It seems to me American football encapsulates many of the most admirable American qualities. Legendary coach and one of my husband’s heroes, Vince Lombardi said, “Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”
What more proof is needed to see that sport really does play an important role in the psyche of this great nation?
God bless America! Oh, and go Dawgs!

Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be reached at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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