My Brain on Football

The First time I cried at Colby College was February 5th 2012. I watched missed opportunities in the fourth quarter of the 46th Super bowl to Welker and Gronkowski and felt my heart sink. We always joke around that everyone here is from Boston or New York – after the Giants pulled away with a 21-17 win I painfully witnessed that reality. I didn’t need to hear Empire State of Mind blaring from an SUV in front of hillside. I felt like screaming. I felt like breaking something. And I felt an overwhelming curiosity for why I felt so intensely about a game I didn’t even play.

Growing up outside Boston, football was big in my house. I owe at least some part of my tomboyship to the fact that I only had brothers. “Yeah, but you’re not a like a real girl” my brothers would respond to me citing myself as evidence that some girls liked traditional “guy stuff”. We played football at Thanksgiving and we played pick up on our camping trips. Sundays at my house entailed going to church in the morning, ordering take out on the way home, and then crashing on the couch to watch the Patriots play. Adam Vinatieri (below) was my first crush – and first heartbreak when he went to the Colts.


I love watching professional football because of how it makes me feel. Rallying around a regional team provides a wonderful sense of community. Residents of that place can come together to spectate and analyze the kinesthetic blueprint of various plays, and the players that animate them. The sense of team, the spirit of together, and the witnessing of properly executed, highly intelligent plays are what make football so endearing as a spectator sport. It is both gracefully beautiful and adrenaline evoking.

As an athlete – even as a female athlete who never really wished or dreamed of playing in the NFL – when I watch games I feel like I’m there and I feel like I am part of the team. This intriguing psychological effect is precisely why I was so amiss upon losing the super bowl. I felt like I lost. My loyalty to the Patriots extended so far as to manifest in tears, stress, adrenaline and even endorphins. As a neuroscience major, this blows my mind.

I suspect that so many people have similar experiences to watching their favorite teams play because of two things; first, they feel a strong sense of loyalty to the team they follow, and second, they see themselves on the field.  Loyalty runs deep and tends to be rooted for many in childhood and family, two very influential aspects of one’s life. And loyalty in people who have been part of an athletic team is unparalleled. The understanding and feeling of moving as a unit is never forgotten and such memories are easily triggered for athletes by watching similar athletic events. In other words athletes watching often experience the game as if they are playing it – with the same degree of excitement and drive. It is no wonder I have such a strong reaction watching the Patriots, and no wonder that watching football hits home for so many people.

Go Pats for the AFC!

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3 Responses to My Brain on Football

  1. Fearless Leader ugogal says:

    You’re all too young to remember the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. This was so crushing that I completely stopped following baseball. I just couldn’t take the emotional devastation.

  2. clapperclawed-champ says:

    After Super Bowl 42, when the undefeated lost to the Giants in shocking fashion I found myself very angry to point where I couldn’t bear to watch any of the replays of David Tyree’s helmet catch that were repeated over and over on the television during the days that followed. I got to the point that I told myself I would stop following football if a game that I had no stake in, that I couldn’t control in anyway, had such an effect on me. It still almost scares me that people care so much and get so much vicarious pleasure and pain from supporting a team full of players who are paid to represent your area in just a ballgame. That said I still really enjoy watching the Red Sox and Patriots.

  3. spondy12 says:

    This makes me feel better about my obsession with football. It has been my favorite viewing sport all my life, though I never watched it because I enjoy bone-crunching hits. In fact, they make me cringe more than anything. Rather, it was my appreciation for incredibly gifted athletes making spectacular plays and great minds making bold calls. The power of a well-timed blitz, well executed play action or gutsy decision to go for it on fourth down has always captivated me. I will admit, however, that I have been a spoiled viewer for the past years watching Tom Brady and Bill Belichick lead such a high quality football game.

    And I agree! Go Pats!

    P.S. Tell me I’m not the only one who experiences a great deal of pain thinking about Super Bowl 42.

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