Like Taylor Swift, I Also Discovered That Football Is Awesome

I used to think getting into the sport meant changing who I was. But the makings of a fan were always in me.

by Rebecca Milzoff
Originally Published: 

On a Caribbean cruise in early December, my husband and I found ourselves one evening sharing the jacuzzi with an older couple. We exchanged the usual pleasantries about our travels and learned they were retired and from Dallas. “Nice to meet you,” I said, smiling. And then, as if experiencing a water jet-induced exorcism, the words spewed out of my mouth: “We hate your football team!!”

You could practically hear the record-scratch sound effect. My husband looked at me with a mixture of awe, amusement, and horror. I knew what he was thinking, because it was the same thought running through my head: Is this just who I am now? The Dallas couple, thankfully, laughed as I explained we loved the Philadelphia Eagles — sworn enemies of the Cowboys — and that my disturbingly exuberant declaration was, in fact, the culmination of recent major life change: I had become a football fan.

No one is more surprised by this than me. Growing up, the closest team to us was the New England Patriots, and — sorry — Tom Brady just always seemed like an arrogant charisma vortex. I would join my dad to watch tennis and baseball, which did not involve large men violently colliding and at least had comprehensible rules, but sports wasn’t a priority in our home. I was the kind of artsy teen who would unwittingly call an athletic game a “performance,” and even once I married my husband, a lifelong Eagles fan from South Jersey, I only watched games with him out of the corner of my eye while scrolling through Instagram. (I barely remember the Eagles winning the Super Bowl in 2018, but I do remember Pennsylvania girl P!nk singing the national anthem.)

Yet when I read Time’s Person of the Year profile of Taylor Swift — girlfriend of Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and probably the most famous football fan in the world right now — I felt a newfound kinship: “Football is awesome, it turns out,” she said. “I’ve been missing out my whole life.” Discovering my own football fan within, I’d come to the same conclusion. I just beat her to it by a couple of years.

Darius Slay Jr. of the Philadelphia Eagles reacts against the Miami Dolphins at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Oct. 22.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images Sport

In a way, it all started with banana pudding.

In the fall of 2022, my husband started showing me funny YouTube clips of Eagles cornerback Darius Slay Jr. — an cartoonishly animated man who goes exclusively by “Slay.” (One particularly iconic clip is a supercut of him insistently correcting every reporter who calls him Darius.) Googling him led me to the Twitter account of his wife, Jennifer, who is a character all her own: obsessed with her husband, a wellspring of exuberant punctuation and emojis (“GIMME THAT SHIT SLAY!!!!🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽,” reads one representative post), and beloved for regularly showing up to the 4th and Jawn podcast’s tailgates with her famous homemade banana pudding, which she also gives out to the team on Fridays. The two of them were as entertaining and fun to follow as any of my favorite reality stars or celebrities, and suddenly I wanted more.

This was my entrypoint. Learning the rules of football felt intimidating and, frankly, a little mind-numbing — but getting to know the players and their lives through social media? That I could handle. The Eagles’ social media accounts — featuring locker-room interviews with players, slideshows of game day ‘fits, and recaps of particularly stunning plays — became a kind of educational module. It taught me that Devonta Smith was both the best-dressed man in the NFL and an insanely talented wide-receiver; that Jason Kelce was a goofy girl-dad and the central force behind the Eagles’ famed 4th-and-one “tush push” maneuver; that quarterback Jalen Hurts was a leader beyond his years and so comically frugal that he still drove a used car and price-compared cellphone plans.

Learning the rules of football felt intimidating and, frankly, a little mind-numbing — but getting to know the players and their lives through social media? That I could handle.

As I started to see the athletes as more than just numbers and helmets, watching football — a sport I’d previously thought of as “big men run into each other, fall in piles, eyeroll” — felt more approachable, and the complexity of the game that once felt like a barrier became part of the appeal: these guys didn’t get to the peak of their profession without real mental acuity.

My husband would pause games to explain unusual plays or why certain players were really good at their positions — bite-sized bits of info I could absorb as I saw them played out in front of me. Two co-workers, both lifelong Eagles fans, discussed games with me the morning after, and I started to delight in getting to subtly show off my gradual gains in knowledge. I also relied greatly on Jason and Travis Kelce’s New Heights podcast — long before it was a source of Swift-Kelce news — and its “No Dumb Questions” segment, in which the Eagles center and his brother, the Kansas City Chiefs tight end, answered basic football questions from newbies like myself.

Before, going to an Eagles bar felt scary, as if the “real” fans who actually understood football would pick up on my lack of knowledge and call me out as a poser. But now, being an eager student — and an expert in players’ personal lives off the field — felt like a pass to join the club, appreciated all the same by fellow patrons who didn’t care if I really understood why a two-point conversion had happened. We sought out Eagles bars wherever we traveled, and I fell hard for the team culture: the scrappy passion that comes with feeling like an underdog, the joy of being surrounded by a sea of midnight and kelly green jerseys, the way we cursed together over bad calls and fist-bumped when we scored. I had to admit: It was thrilling to feel like I had been drafted to something bigger.

Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles (left) and Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs after an NFL game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, on Nov. 20, 2023.Ryan Kang/Getty Images Sport

As we watched the Eagles play the Chiefs in the Super Bowl last year, I asked my husband if being a football fan was always this fun. “It’s always fun when you’re winning,” he said with a rueful laugh.

I discovered that on my own pretty quickly. In a nail-biter fourth quarter, the Eagles lost by three points, and their next season kicked off with a series of by-the-skin-of-their-teeth victories before devolving into loss after loss. Many of the characters who’d first drawn me into Eagles fandom suddenly looked like not-so-sure things: rumors swirled about whether Kelce would finally retire; D’Andre Swift, the incredible new running back the team traded for in the 2023 draft, who’d become a personal favorite of mine, was now a free agent; even likable young head coach Nick Sirianni’s future was, for an excruciating couple of weeks, in question. But I stuck with my favorite musicians despite so-so albums, and I forgave my favorite actors the occasional box-office flop, so I’d hang in there too — even if it meant that I’d have to grit my teeth a bit through this year’s Super Bowl.

“Welcome to the plight of the football fan. It’s not all that different from politics, actually.”

And, really, this was far from my first realization that watching football wasn’t always unadulterated fun. The “End Racism” and “It Takes All of Us” stencils on the field and on players’ helmets are constant reminders of the NFL’s very slow evolution toward supporting social justice that only ramped up in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. The threat of CTE and life-threatening injuries makes it an incredibly dangerous game. And while I feel lucky that my favorite players seem by all accounts like good guys, I’m well aware that plenty of pro footballers are not exemplary human beings.

Early on in my football education, I texted one of my best friends from high school, a Patriots fan, tentatively asking, “Is it OK to like the Eagles but… still not be totally on board with the NFL and football as a whole?” “OMG, yes,” she replied. “Welcome to the plight of the football fan. It’s not all that different from politics, actually.”

Football fandom, like any other kind, I realized, didn’t only come in the blind, all-consuming variety, the kind that didn’t allow for hesitation or mixed feelings. Those might never go away — and they didn’t negate the journey I’d been on. Back at the hot tub, the woman gleefully declaring her hatred of the Dallas Cowboys to a complete stranger was really me. But the makings of a football fan had always been in me; I didn’t need to pretend to be some other person to become one.

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