How college football saves marriages: Knowledge from the Football Wives Club
We’ve all heard tragic stories about discord and divorce among couples. Breakups are brought on by financial failings, by straying spouses engaged in romantic flings, by disagreements about how the kids should be raised. There are many reasons why married couples call it quits.
But I can tell you — without a doubt — there is one sure glue that keeps couples together through sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, in droughts and recessions.
That is football.
To prove my theory, I talked to some of my closest girlfriends whose strong marriages are closely bound by college football — at least from late August through the first week in January when the BCS bowl games are played. All are beautiful, intelligent, successful women who are huge Univeristy of Texas football fans. When it comes to gridiron passion, their husbands are equals.
Cheryl Frink estimates she and husband David spend half a day planning, shopping and setting up their tailgate party; socializing during both pre- and post-game activities and, oh yeah, attending the game. Cheryl says, “The 10-12 hours we spend on actual game day does not include the hours and hours my husband spends pregame and postgame advising the coach on exactly what he needs to be doing with the team. Sadly, Mack Brown doesn’t get to hear David’s advice, but it’s out there in abundance if ever needed.”
(Of course, the rest of us have heard David’s insightful, but often unsolicited advice!)
Where football and friendships often start
Cheryl and I became friends (where else?) in the football stands. My twin daughters and her daughter were members of the Westwood High School Sun Dancers drill team. While the halftime show was the big highlight for me — for all of us — it was the emotions and excitement of rooting for the same football team that stirred everyone. Actual wins and losses are less important.
Another close friendship of mine was forged in the high school football stands. Gigi Bryant’s youngest son, Aaron, was a member of the Westwood Warriors football team. Like Cheryl, Gigi is also a big Longhorn fan. A typical weekend meant we saw each other during Friday night high school football action and then again on Saturday to cheer on the Longhorns.
“We loved the high school, college and professional trifecta when we were in the middle of that, but now that the nest is empty, I love not having to hurry to a game on Friday night," Cheryl says. "It means we can spend more time getting ready for Saturday’s tailgate!”
A mom's role in the game
Gigi brings another level to the football fever: her oldest son, Marcus Wilkins, also played for Westwood High School before being recruited by the University of Texas. He went on to play six years in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers. Speaking from personal experience, Gigi says, ”A mom's role in football is as important as the game itself. Moms have to understand that this is their son's world for a season, and she has to step back and continue to help him balance life's choices outside the game.”
She adds, “Moms don't coach! Our role really never changes for our children, but the game perspective for moms, is not on the field. Instead it is helping with work, life, balance and building a really big fan club.”
Married to football — literally
My third football fanatic friend, Kerry Hall, is also the mom of a high school football player. Her son, Hudson, is currently a freshman playing for Westlake High School. Kerry says she became a football fan when she was not much younger than Hudson. At age 13, she read a Reader’s Digest article written for women to help them understand The Game. From then on, Kerry was hooked.
One game remains strong in Kerry’s memory. “When I started thinking seriously about college, I started getting interested in the Texas Longhorns," she says. "I think the first game I ever watched was the 1977 National Championship Game against Notre Dame. Little did I know at the time, but my future husband was a freshman tight end who saw a lot of playing time in that game."
Texas lost, but that didn’t stop Kerry from becoming a diehard Longhorn fan. She attended her first UT game while a senior in high school and has been a loyal fan ever since.
Talk about football fate; not only did Kerry date and eventually marry Steve Hall, a Longhorn, but he’s also a Longhorn from Broken Arrow, Okla. Beaming with Burnt Orange pride, she says, “Legend has it that he is the first Okie to score a touchdown against the Sooners for UT.”
Enduring the emotional game of life
For all my fellow female football fans, the Red River Rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma is an emotional game. Kerry’s only missed one in 31 years, and that came after giving birth to her son just two weeks before the game.
Cheryl and David have missed very few games during their 29 years of marriage. “Before we got married, I picked out a date in October for our wedding," Cheryl says. "My husband approved it, saying, 'That will work. We don’t have a home game.' I thought he was just being funny. He wasn’t. I probably can count on one hand the times he has missed a home game, and he still complains about every one he’s missed.
Gigi and her husband Sam have huddled together in the stands with temperatures near freezing, when an unrelenting sun burns at 100-plus degrees and in the driving rain. I know because my husband of 23 years (CultureMap Austin editor-in-chief Kevin Benz) and I have been right there with them.
For the Halls, the Frinks, the Bryants and the Benzes, football is more than just a weekend past time. It is a lifelong tradition that brings us closer as couples and as friends.
“For my husband, it’s the game," Cheryl Fink says. "For me, it’s family and friends and lots of food and drinks and fantastic people watching and sometimes actually getting to cheer for a winning team. I love the band, I love the pregame hoopla, I love seeing our friends and family every year at our tailgates. Some people have boats and lake houses or travel or play golf.
"For us, this is where we put our fun money, although some seasons are a lot more fun than others."
Kerry Hall echoes that sentiment saying, “The way I see it — and justify it — is that some people spend a lot of money and time on golf, others on hunting and fishing. Our family has football: Westlake, Longhorns and a myriad of pro teams that are home to our favorite UT players."
We all agree there is something special about being a UT fan. Sure it’s great to win, but Kerry says, “We enjoy the camaraderie of the fan base; which is code for ‘the tailgate party.' The pre-party and the post-party have allowed us to nurture long time friendships that would otherwise have just withered away over the years. Many of our best friends have made it a ritual just like us and now their friends are coming and over the years the tailgate parties have grown.
Yes, there are some weekends that it seems a little overwhelming to pack up our thee-ring circus and haul it down to MLK and San Jacinto, but short of a major family event, nothing can keep us from it.” She adds, “I guess you could say we just feel blessed to get to enjoy all that football has to offer”.
Advice for other women
So for those young women who may be contemplating becoming romantically involved with a football fan, or even a player, Gigi has advice that applies to both. She says, “With any dating choice, choose someone you have something in common with and share values with on and off the field.” She warns that the game will often demand 210-percent of your football man. She says the same is true of a football player and of a diehard fan.
“Date them for who they are today and not for who you believe they will be in five years,” Gigi says.
It’s working for her, for Cheryl, for Kerry and for me and our respective husbands. It also helps to be rooting for a team you believe in — during national championship seasons, as well as the off ones. And for that, we all have a good reason to cheer for the Texas Longhorns.