The NFL is trying to win women over by teaching them the rules of the game and the rules of the roux

TACKLING FOOTBALL

September 22, 1997|By Lisa Pollak | Lisa Pollak,SUN STAFF

Ten days ago, I didn't know much about football. I didn't know that offense sells tickets and defense wins championships. I didn't know that the tight end is both a blocker and a receiver. I didn't know that Scallops Parisian is a rich blend of scallops in a cream sauce with shallots, mushrooms and bouquet garni.

Now, thanks to the National Football League, I know all of this. At least, I think I do. To be honest, I'm still not sure what bouquet garni is. But as former New York Jet Ken Schroy told me during Football 101, a clinic for women at the Meadowlands in New Jersey:

"Football is life. The rest is just details."

Actually, he didn't tell me that. I read it on his T-shirt, the one that also advised, "Be kind to animals -- Kiss a football player."

Ten days ago, I had never heard of Ken Schroy. (Neither, in my defense, had most of the football fans in my office). Back then, football was a mystery to me. I had nothing against it; I just didn't get it. Which made me the perfect candidate for Football 101, part of the league's much-hyped, continuing effort to embrace current and would-be female fans. The campaign includes football classes for women in 18 NFL cities, NFL merchandise in women's sizes, and the soon-to-be-released "NFL Family Cookbook," which, according to its foreword, "provides an opportunity to get to know the members of the extended NFL family in the relaxed settings of their homes and kitchens. Their ,, food says welcome."

L Yeah, welcome to heart disease. But we'll get to that later.

I was scheduled to attend Football 101 at Giants Stadium, which, speaking of mysteries, is the New Jersey home of both the New York Jets and New York Giants. The class, sponsored by the Jets, was appealing for several reasons: It was free, less than three hours long and located at the idyllic-sounding Meadowlands. (The Ravens plan to offer a similar class in Baltimore later this season.)

Best of all, the Jets promised free gifts.

"We're going to teach the basic rules, nothing too complex," said the friendly woman on the phone. "Then we're going to have you run through drills that the players actually do."

Sure, sure, I said. But I wasn't really listening. I was already thinking about tackling the NFL's recommended reading list, starting with "The Women's Armchair Guide to Pro Football," an easy-to-read tome full of "Fun Facts" and "Helpful Hints."

A Fun Fact:

In recent years, a pre-game ritual for the offensive linemen of the Minnesota Vikings was to show up four hours before game time, dress for the game, and sit in the team locker room around a cooler of Mountain Dew, consuming cups of the green beverage until the rest of the team arrived.

A Helpful Hint:

Unlike other outdoor professional sports such as baseball or tennis, football is an all weather sport. To avoid embarrassment, don't say "I hope the game doesn't get rained out today."

And that is why, 10 days ago, I found myself driving toward East Rutherford, N.J., wishing I'd brought some Mountain Dew, not hoping for no rain, when all of a sudden it hit me -- in slow motion, like in those NFL films -- what the friendly woman from the Jets had said on the phone.

We're going to have you run through drills that the players actually do.

I did what any logical person in my position would do.

I stopped for breakfast.

Inflated rubber bladder

The first disappointment was the Meadowlands, of which I will say only this: They are not very meadow-like.

The second disappointment was the gift bag, which consisted of black plastic sunglasses, a Jets pin and a 28-page rule book that was nothing if not thorough.

Perhaps too thorough:

The football used in NFL play is manufactured by the Wilson Sporting Goods Company of Ada, Ohio. It is an inflated rubber bladder (in the shape of a prolate spheroid) filled with 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 pounds of air, enclosed in a pebble-grained leather (not pigskin, as is commonly believed) case of natural tan color, and weighs 14 to 15 ounces.

Prolate spheroid? Thirteen and a half pounds of air? My college science classes didn't get this technical.

"Why don't we get T-shirts this year?" one of my classmates was asking angrily.

If the crowd of 300 lined up outside Giants Stadium was any indication, female football fans are no less intense than their male counterparts. There were middle-aged women in autographed Jets jerseys. There were toddlers in uniforms. There was a woman in nothing but a pink exercise bra and gray bike shorts, guzzling Powerade.

We filed through the dark tunnel and emerged, blinking, onto the brilliant green AstroTurf, an indoor-outdoor carpet that felt soft underfoot but prickled bare skin like so many tiny razor blades. For a moment, we truly understood the players' burden.

"This stuff is nasty!"

"Boy, it must hurt!"

"Can you imagine the rug-burn they get?"

But our collective sympathy for the Professional Football Player quickly began to fade. For who could fail to notice the white lines on the green turf, delineating those crucial 10-yard divisions?

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