We all know the situation: it’s Thanksgiving, the family is over, and the dinner isn’t going to be ready for another hour or two. What is everybody doing instead? Most likely watching one of the two football games that are always on. A hallmark of the holiday season, football on thanksgiving is as american as pumpkin pie or stealing land from natives. But there’s a problem: you know nothing about football. Maybe you’re with a significant other’s family for the first time and your own family never indoctrinated you into the “Must watch football on thanksgiving” cult. How do you survive?
Learn the basics
When I took a trip to London, after departing the plane and experiencing mind-shattering jet lag, the only thing on our hotel television was cricket. I knew nothing about cricket, but I was fascinated by it… for about five minutes. After that, the novelty wore off. The same can happen with football if you don’t actually know what’s going on.
Here’s a crash course for the uninitiated:
- Main goal: score the most points possible
- Scoring: Touchdown = 6 points, Extra Points = 1 point, Field Goal = 3 points (A safety = 2 points, but that rarely happens so don’t worry about it)
- Positions: Quarterback throws/hands off the ball, Receiver catches the ball, Running Back runs with the ball. Every other position either helps these people (offense) or ties to stop them (defense)
Another thing to know is that the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys play every single thanksgiving (always against different teams). Pulling out this fact will endure you to any true football fan and make you seem like the expert that you definitely are. The Lions are always bad, and everybody hates the Cowboys (even though they are called “America’s Team”. Don’t be fooled by that moniker).
Knowing these points, you can already carry on a conversation with someone’s dad who considers football on thanksgiving to be as holy as any grace or seance. If someone drops a pass, call them a bum who can’t play. If a big pass is caught, react with awe, even if it’s not your team. At some random point, mention how the defence has no idea what they are doing. It doesn’t matter when you say this as someone is bound to agree with you. With these basics, you’re already on your way to faking your way through it. Plus, learning how the game works will definitely help you enjoy the experience more than, say, just watching the commercials.
Watch the reactions
Sociology: it’s the science that never fails. The best way to understand anything that isn’t already embedded in your brain is to people watch. If the drunk uncle is yelling at a certain guy, remember him: he’s probably important. If you don’t know why everyone is staring intently at what looks like non-action, watch them instead. Maybe time is running out and there are some mental games going on between the teams.
If they scream, you scream. If they cheer, you cheer. If they boo, you know what to do. If nothing makes sense and you just can’t get a grip, or you really don’t care about what’s going on, then it’s time to turn your attention away from the TV. Maybe you’ll get a cerebral workout trying to parse what makes these people tick. Maybe you’ll get philosophical about why a bunch of slovenly middle aged drunks love to watch their fellow man juggle each other’s balls. Sometimes the people watching the game are just as entertaining, if not more entertaining, than what’s actually happening on the screen.
Make up your own game
Rules are for suckers. Maybe football is just too boring or too confusing to follow. That’s fine: there are plenty of games within the game for you to make up when the actual game leaves you wanting. If the game isn’t doing enough to hold your attention, you’ll have to find ways to entertain yourself.
Probably the easiest way to make things more interesting is to turn the viewing experience into a drinking game. The rules can be loose and don’t have to have anything to do with the actual rules of football: anytime you see a player with a certain number, anytime there’s a gratuitous shot of a cheerleader, anytime someone with a funny name gets mentioned, anytime a Wendy’s commercial comes on. The possibilities are endless, and you’ll be smashed enough by a certain point that, who knows, maybe you’ll actually start watching the game again.
Hide your phone somewhere for a quick escape
Everybody does it. Even the biggest, most technologically out of touch fan can’t resist going back to their phone. It’s 2020. Everyone has a phone and everyone has something to check. There’s nothing wrong with checking your pocket and scrolling through Twitter just to take your mind off a game you don’t really care about.
Just make sure you don’t get caught. Nobody likes it when someone is willfully ignoring what’s going on. Watching football is as much a social event as it is an exercise in sedentary living. There will be sometimes when everyone reaches for their phones (halftime, commercial breaks, whenever your team is losing miserably) so just keep an eye out for those and go with the flow.
Turn your brain off
Now it’s time to take a zen approach: if using all your mental bandwidth to try and understand the game, or to use the game to distract yourself in some other ways, end up not working, turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.
Let the wafting aromas of turkey and sweet potatoes rattle around your mind and fill your senses. There are bright colors on the screen, so let them take you to your own imaginary land. Zone out for a little while, and only snap back to attention if someone says your name. It might sound kind of silly, but the truth is that no one on the couch is thinking critically about whatever is going on. Chances are that the people watching have seen at least a hundred football games before, and football on thanksgiving is more of a passive activity than an interactive one, so take a few deep breaths and enter your happy place.
Fully admit you know nothing
If faking it is getting you nowhere and all else fails, it’s time to admit defeat: say that you’ve never watched football on thanksgiving, or football in general, ever. Most likely, whoever is watching will hit you with some of the basics we’ve already talked about you and guide you through why they like watching it so much. You won’t be vilified, you won’t be shunned, you won’t be ostracized. Football fans want everyone to be football fans, and they’ll see you as a chance to make another convert.
If this all sounds vaguely religious, that’s because it is: for a certain subsect of America, football is bigger than politics, world news, science, and entertainment combined. The Super Bowl might be the culmination of the season, but football on thanksgiving is tradition. It’s been the same for over half a century, and many people can’t imagine the holiday without it. Whatever single event you love to watch, whether it’s the Oscars or the Bachelor finale, can be comparable to this: it’s the sports-fans day of celebration. You don’t have to be a fan to see that this level of devotion is for a reason. So embrace it: pop open a cold one and embrace your middle-aged inner self. Yell at the TV a little bit, watch some guys get a few concussions, and enjoy football on thanksgiving.