I am a Woman and I love SportsCenter

Okay, now where were we?

Oh, yeah. Brian. Well, turns out that Brian wasn't alone in his assessment that I "wasn't a girl", despite the obvious evidence to the contrary. Brandon, another boy from my neighborhood, explained it thusly: "Kari, you are just one of the guys. You are like a kid sister to all the guys on the block. And none of us want to be making out with our sister, or hearing about another guy making out with our sister."

All I can say is...thank God for high school. I wasn't about to stop loving sports, or playing sports, just to placate a guy. That wasn't going to happen. So when I went into high school, there was a whole new crop of guys that didn't live in my neighborhood. They ONLY knew me as a girl. A girl who dug sports, but a girl nonetheless. My high-school boyfriends were all jocks (shocking, I know), and thought my fandom was one of my better qualities. Well, that, and my then-nimble knees, but that's another blog.

Whoa, what are you thinking? My knees were nimble because I played catcher on the Varsity Softball team. Geez.

Anyway...in college, I dated a guy named Ray whose Fandom outmatched even mine. He and his sister split season tickets to the Bears, the Bulls, and the Blackhawks. We dated during the renaissance of sports in Chicago during the early ‘90's...and we had a lot of great times together. So this episode in my life just served to reinforce my psychological stance that good times and good relationships had a direct correlation with sports.

This was back when the old Chicago Stadium still existed, and we'd go to Blackhawk games and see Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios tear up the ice. His seats were on the Blue Line...you couldn't get a better vantage point. During a heated exchange, the crowd would stomp their feet and yell "Defense! Defense!", and the building would literally shake. We'd go to see Bulls games and see Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and when they introduced Jordan, the whole crowd would join in...stomping their feet and yelling "Miiiiiiiiichael Joooooooooorrrrrrdaaaaaaannnnnnnnn!", and the building would literally shake. His seats for the Bulls were on the lower level, in the corner by the hoop. I swear I got hit with Jordan's sweat more than once.

Ray asked me once what my idea of the perfect date was. "Is it champagne and roses, chocolate-covered strawberries and classical music, and just the two of us?" he asked.

"What ever gave you THAT idea?!?" I asked.

"I don't know. I guess that's what the perfect date is in the movies. I just feel bad sometimes that we are always doing stuff I want to do."

"Dude, believe me when I say that my idea of the perfect date is a cold beer and lukewarm popcorn, sitting on the Blue Line watching Roenick slam a Red Wing into the glass, just the two of us and 30,000 or so of our closest friends."

And I meant every word.

I should have married that man. But time and circumstances conspired against us, and we drifted apart.

Yes...I am getting to the "Why do you root for teams from two cities?" part. I promise.

And then I met the man that I would marry. Temporarily, at least. He was not a FanBoy. I thought that I could convert him.

I thought wrong.

In order to protect the not-so-innocent, let's call my now ex-husband Joe. Don't ask me what drew me to Joe-he is definitely not "my type". He hates sports, he's not a jock, and he, in fact, didn't even attempt to tolerate my fandom. He thought that it was ridiculous. But there was something there, something that made me think that we could make a life together.

That something was two pink lines on an EPT test.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Believe me, anything you can say I've already said to myself a thousand times. Joe was my rebound guy, someone who was around while I was trying to soothe myself over the Ray breakup. I was young, I was stupid, and I was scared. I did what I thought was the right thing to do for my son.

But I am getting off topic here. This is the story of how a FanGirl from Chicago came to root for the Steelers alongside the Bears, how she came to cheer for the Penguins as hard as she cheered for the Blackhawks.

Joe also came from a big family; he had ten aunts and uncles, a zillion cousins, four brothers and a sister, and I lost count of the nieces and nephews somewhere around 20. Joe's clan originated in Youngtown, Ohio. For all intents and purposes, Youngstown may as well be a suburb of Pittsburgh. It's a quick hour down I-76 to Pittsburgh from Y-Town (it's actually closer than I am to Chicago). So, anyway...since Joe was the only one from his clan that didn't live in and around Y-Town, we spent a lot of time there for weddings, funerals, baptisms, and what not.

It's kinda ironic that Joe's family is actually a lot like mine--loud, boisterous, close-knit, and bonded by their fandom. Joe is definitely the black sheep of his family-the running joke is that he is the mailman's son. Which, in hindsight, makes WAY too much sense...but I digress. I was already an outsider in Joe's Clan since I didn't take their last name when we got married. I was tolerated but not really embraced. My in-laws figured out real quick that I fit in much better with the guys in the living room watching the game rather than in the kitchen getting in the way of those trying to cook and clean. They laughed at me if I entered the kitchen. I actually felt kinda bad at first--it's this Irish guilt thing. But my mother-in-law laid down the law as tactfully as she could. "Kari, you are getting in my way. The best thing you can do to help me is to get the hell out of my kitchen."

Okay, then.

At first, I was a little intimidated, I'll admit. I was a Bears fan in a sea of Black and Gold. I was used to Da Bears Fans' enthusiasm--I played a pick-up game in 20 below weather the night the Bears won the Super Bowl in '85--but the Steeler Nation was a whole other animal. The Steeler Nation was the U.S. compared to Da Bears Fans' being Uzbekistan. So for the first few encounters with my in-laws, I sat quietly in the back, enjoying the game but not really participating in the festivities.

One Thanksgiving weekend, we were watching a game (don't ask me who the opponent was--I don't remember and it doesn't matter), and one of the Steelers' linebackers went up at the goal line and came within a hair of intercepting a pass. He didn't get it largely in part because the receiver committed offensive pass interference. When the refs didn't throw the flag, the living room erupted, and the loudest voice was mine, saying, "You stupid, maternal-loving, vision-impaired orifice! That was offensive pass interference, and you know it! You obviously wouldn't know offensive pass interference if it was pleasuring you like a morally loose female!"

Excuse me, but did you just hear that pin drop?

And no, I did not use those exact words. But I don't want to get kicked off of FanNation, so use your imagination as to what was my actual verbiage.

There must have been 20 or so of Joe's Clan sitting in that living room, and the place hadn't been silent all day. But as soon as those words left my lips, you could hear the hum of the electric lines 20 miles away. They all turned to look at me, the quiet-but-polite girl from Chicago that Joe had knocked up, jaws scraping the floor. After what felt like an eternity (but was probably only 30 seconds or so), Joe's oldest brother Mike cracked the biggest smile I'd ever seen. Slowly, the smile spread to the others in the room.

Mike looked at Joe and said, "Hell, little bro, we had written you off a long time ago. But if you can bag a girl that knows what offensive pass interference is, there's hope for you yet."

That was it. I was in. At least with the guys of the clan.

Mike walked over to me, gave me a bear hug, and said (for the first time), "Welcome to the family!"

Little did I know at that point how ironic that statement would become.

There's more to the story, but you'll have to tune in tomorrow for the conclusion!


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