Ladies: How To Watch A Football Game, Circa 1948
By Matt Natali
In 1986, actress Goldie Hawn starred in the film Wildcats portraying a girls high school track coach who becomes a head football coach at an inner-city high school.
In a review of the movie, late, famed movie critic Roger Ebert said, “’Wildcats’ is allegedly about Goldie Hawn's attempts to find success as the coach of a boys high school football team. But most of the big scenes and almost all of the dialog in the movie are assigned to her grownup friends, and the team gets lost in the shuffle; her coaching is the gimmick, not the subject of this movie.”
Five years later in 1991, model and actress Kathy Ireland played the role of a placekicker on an NCAA sanction-riddled football team in the outlandish and slapstick comedy Necessary Roughness.
Fast forward to the recently released Hollywood motion picture Draft Day about the Cleveland Browns attempt to rebuild the franchise through the NFL’s annual draft. Actress Jennifer Garner plays the role of Browns business manager Ali Parker.
In an obvious parallel between the evolution of the role of women in football and art imitating life, Draft Day leaves behind the absurdity of its cinematic predecessors giving its due respect to the female factor in football.
According to a recent article by Bob Thompson of the Postmedia News, Garner studied Cleveland Browns salary cap expert Megan Rogers to prepare for the role.
“I had the privilege of shadowing Megan and basically stole everything from her,” Garner said in the interview. “She is a woman in a man’s world and she does it seamlessly.”
Director Ivan Reitman said in the piece, “I wanted her to be the smartest person in a scene. And (Jennifer) knows football and she came to this in a natural way.”
During the interview, Garner recounted her West Virginia roots and membership in her high school’s marching band attending “every single (high school) game” while describing her affinity of the sport.
Emily Kaplan of MMQB.com wrote in a recent review of the film:
Screenwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman created the character because some of the most passionate NFL fans they know are women. The NFL has said women now account for nearly half of its fan base, with 375,000 attending NFL games each weekend. “It was a no-brainer for us to include a woman who not only knows her stuff, but also affects the details of this story,” Joseph says. “And someone our protagonist can lean on.” They loosely based Garner’s character on former Browns employee Dawn Aponte (now Miami’s executive vice president of football administration). Rogers, an Aponte protégée, emerged as a key resource throughout filming.
From the fans in the stands to executives in corner offices to reporters on the sidelines and behind anchor desks, it is almost hard to imagine football without a prominent female presence. But turn back the clock 70 years and the perceived role — or lack thereof — of women in regard to the sport is stereotypically laughable, even more so than the female roles depicted in the movies in the last 20 years.
Recently, my better half and I left our home in Columbus, Ohio, to pay a visit to her mom in Florida. Like the game of football itself, her mom was born and raised in Ohio, and the only thing that may trump her love of the Ohio State Buckeyes is her unbridled passion for the Cleveland Browns. So, with an assortment of Buckeyes and Browns-oriented (belated) birthday gifts, we took flight to the Sunshine State for a few days.
The gifts were a huge hit and her mom shared some of her Browns memorabilia with us during the trip. I took a particular interest in a game day program from Sept. 3, 1948, for the Browns matchup with the fabled Los Angeles Dons — the short-lived All-American Football Conference team that folded after three years.
I noticed the $0.35 cover price, ads for men’s suits costing less than $40 as well as old photos of football legends Paul Brown, Marion Motley, Lou Saban, Lou Groza, and Otto Graham. The program was a voyage a the football time machine — unearthing the greatest gem of them all on page 29.
Appropriately (or inappropriately) nestled between an ad for the Filter Queen Vacuum on the opposite page and an ad for The May Company Department Store, the Browns Communications Department included a guide to football for women titled To the Ladies – How to Watch a Football Game.
Just as the title indicates, the feature is as stereotypically patronizing as can be imagined. Women are generalized as meek, unassuming and uneducated in the gridiron game. The language describes football in a pedestrian manner, translate it in laymen’s terms. It also pigeon-holed male fans as hulking brutes that are uncontrollable, irrational and even violent (which, honestly, is not that far from the truth in many cases).
The first paragraph sets the table:
Husbands, fathers and even boyfriends who are avid football fans have an ungentle way of answering your questions during tense moments of play. To avoid getting your feelings ruffled by an otherwise tender and considerate escort (who becomes a hoarse-voiced back-pounder at the kick-off), we will try to answer your questions. Needless to say, you cannot be made an expert in this limited space, but perhaps we can avoid your being shouted at with a brusque, “Why don’tcha watch the game?”
The one-page crash course continues on with a description of the game from the coin toss to offenses, defenses and scoring. Each position is given its rightful due: It calls players “stalwarts,” christens quarterbacks as “generals," defines tackles as “pile-ups” and calls the huddle a “pow wow” just to dumb down the terminology for the female audience.
Apparently football also is a difficult game for women’s slower-thinking brains to follow from play-to-play, so the feature offers a bit of advice:
It’s elementary (and easy) to glibly say the way to enjoy football is to “Follow the ball.” And it’s very true too. Modern football depends greatly on deception or “A who’s got the ball idea.” If that big, tall 21, who is right down there in the game chases the wrong guy, how can you be expected to know way up here? But we still say when you get accustomed to “following the ball” you will enjoy the game more.
Additionally, detailed definitions of offside calls, clipping, holding, unnecessary roughness, interference and field goals are offered so “you don’t have to ask about (them) in exciting moments” during the game.
And to complete the lesson, the feature culminates into a condescending explanation of scoring so the female audience knows when the Browns score a touchdown (and includes a shameless plug for eventual Hall of Fame kicker Lou Groza):
And when you see that official at the goal line hold both hands above his head, that’s a touchdown, lady, and six points for our side, and with Groza and his tape line it’s gonna be seven points soon. We hope you enjoy your game.
So, does that make sense now, ladies? Do you think you will be able to watch football games now and not only follow it but enjoy it and not bother your male counterparts during games? The 2013 Official Playing Rules of the National Football League was only 120 pages, so you should have a pretty good grasp of the game now thanks to the 1948 Cleveland Browns brass.
I can only imagine the reaction to this game day feature from the likes of Rogers or any of the other influential women who have emblazoned their fingerprint on the sport.
From the post-World War II era Cleveland Browns game day program to the Browns front office depiction in Draft Day, the story of women and football seems to come gracefully full circle.
But much like the naivety of the game-day program feature from 1948, it is credulous to think that women are content with their influence in the sport and will rest on their football laurels.