Mayor Glenda Hood and county Chairman Linda Chapin recently said, "Got Milk? Get Football." They shouted it proudly, through their milk moustaches, from a billboard overlooking I-4.
I have always believed that actually sitting through a football game should be a fate reserved for women sent to the fifth circle of hell, so I was intrigued why 235 women would pay good money to spend five hours at the Citrus Bowl participating in a Women's Football Clinic.
More importantly, I wanted to see whether this abomination would be mildly offensive or outright patronizing. And in concept it was patronizing, assuming that women -- and only women -- needed the ABCs of the sport. It never occurred to me that the day might be fun and informative, with the added bonus of an endless supply of chocolate milk.
But at 8 a.m. the clinic started badly. The event was presented by the Dairy Farmers Inc., who had positioned an absurdly large inflatable cow at the back of the room. At the front, four hideously peppy cheerleaders were leaping with glee. With nowhere safe to rest my gaze, I delved into the bag full of goodies handed to me at the door and came up with a pin-up of Daunte Culpepper, UCF's star quarterback.
There followed a five-minute video presentation of, you guessed it, men playing football. It didn't bode well that almost everyone started fidgeting or yawning 30 seconds in.
The group ranged in age from 20 years old to grandmothers. Many chose to attend because their sons play football. A few, like Laura Critzer, were genuine fanatics. "There's always more to learn and now I can say I walked on the turf of the Citrus Bowl," she said.
But the large majority were classic football widows like Liz Craig, whose husband signed her up so she would "stop asking so many stupid questions."
Mayor Hood gave a rallying speech. "My pom-pons disintegrated years ago, and that's why we're here. To prove that's not the only way we can participate in sports." I was pleased she finally had wiped the milk from her mouth.
The serious coaching began with UCF Athletic Director Steve Sloan drawing Xs and Os. I was already into my third chocolate milk and was just about to snuggle down for a nap when Sloan began to explain the offensive lineup in terms I could appreciate.
"The center is 6-3, 265 pounds. He eats a lot and slobbers. Not someone you want to date."
"The fullback is a short, chunky guy. Weird looking. But he makes $22 million, so he gets better looking all the time."
With the promise that by the end of the day we would know as much or more about the game than any male, Sloan proceeded to talk us through the offense and defense, basic formations and commonly used plays.
The mischievous demon whispering in my ear was telling me to stand up and ask what happens in the ninth inning. But the questions being raised around the room were all intelligent.
"What is a nickel-back defense?"
"In pass coverage, what is the difference between zone and man-to-man?"
"Why do they say hut?"
The rest of the day was cunningly devised to cover every random, obscure aspect of the game. And when Fox play-by-play announcer Paul Kennedy explained he's just "someone who hasn't played the game a lot, runs his mouth and has a large collection of ties," he confirmed my nagging suspicion that the men on TV are spouting as much bullshit as those sitting in front of it.
My favorite moment was out on the field, putting our new knowledge into action. The offense huddled and got into position along the line of scrimmage. The tackle scowled at the quick guard. The center placed her hands on the ball. The quarterback looked down at the center and said, "I'm not putting my hand up there!"
After 27 years of campaigning that football should be banned for the good of humanity, I thought that maybe men and women could appreciate sports together after all. I rushed straight to work, eager to test my knowledge on my male colleagues, who got straight down to the business of putting me back in my place. "Do you know how to run a Statue of Liberty play? Do you know what turf toe is? Didn't you learn anything?"
I'm confident that out of 235 women, a few will fare better. Jolee Mills' husband runs a fantasy football league and is annoyed that she took part in the clinic in case it gives her an unfair advantage.
"I was going to pick my team this year by looking at backsides and picking the tight ends on the basis of which NFL players have the tightest ends," she said. "Now [that] I know the rules, I may have to choose on players' skills, not rear ends. At the least, now I know to choose the tackle with the biggest backside."