Now that the Pro Bowl is over, do football fans have anything left to be excited about? You could always watch the Super Bowl (coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. EST, don’t Google it). And if you have older kids, chances are they’re already like mini-offensive coordinators, what with all the Madden they play. But guys with young kids have 2 big hurdles to watching the Big Game. First, their kids want to watch Puppy Bowl. Second, they won’t stop asking questions. This guide is for the guy whose kid already wants to know why daddy is filling a kiddie pool with nacho cheese.
Todd Arky and Paul Appelbaum created TipOff, a weekly newsletter that breaks down sports in the simplest possible terms for people who want to speak intelligently about them without paying much attention to them. They have a gift for this sort of thing — one they honed with their own kids, who ask tons of questions when they’re trying to watch games. Because just like CBS’s NFL Today crew, it’s fun to act like you know something about football.
Why Is This A Big Deal?
“When you tell kids that this is the world championship, and two of the best teams in the world are playing each other, it tends to get their attention. Explain it in terms that they’re interested in. Like if Dora the Explorer played SpongeBob Squarepants on Sesame Street.” Vegas currently has Dora -3.5.
Why Do I Care About These Teams?
“My kids always ask me ‘Who is playing and who do you want to win?’, but I don’t always care,” says Arky. “The lesson is that you don’t always have to be into one team or the other. You can enjoy something for what it is. With the Super Bowl, so many people don’t really care who wins. Focus more on the sport. Winning or losing the game is only one piece of the puzzle.” Other pieces of the puzzle include weird commercials, being disappointed by halftime, and pizza coma.
Get Them Betting
Most of what you need to know in life you can glean from episodes of The Simpsons. Like the one where Homer and Lisa bond over betting on football. Your kids should know early on that gambling makes good things even better!
For your own kids, set up a low stakes football squares game. If you’ve done one at the bar or office, you know the deal — the kids pick boxes, then you assign numbers, then they spend all game cursing at the TV as the score changes. “It’s a good time to explain strategy,” says Arky. “You can explain how, when the defense stepped up and stopped the other team in their own end, they forced a punt, and their offense will get good field position. Now they’ll have a better chance to kick a field goal.”
Flickr / Keith Allison
Find A Human Interest Story
Your 4-year-old probably doesn’t know a Carolina Panther from a Daniel Tiger, but if you craft an interesting backstory around one of the players — NFL Films style — it will give them a person to cheer for. A good example: “Last year Russell Wilson was a great story. A quarterback that people didn’t see having the potential to be a pro. He’s not the prototype for the position but he has a lot of sticktoitiveness.” A bad example: Adrian Peterson.
This year talk about Cam Newton. Tell your kids he’s the only player to win a national championship, a Heisman trophy, and be selected as number 1 in the NFL draft. If their eyes glaze over, just say he gives a football to kids when he scores a touchdown. Or talk about Peyton Manning. Tell your kids he’s old and washed up and hanging in for one last big score, sort of like their father.
Turn Your Kid Into An Armchair Quarterback
If you thought your team could have done better this season being coached by a toddler, now’s your chance. “Putting kids in the driver’s seat gets them more engaged. Ask them questions. Would you throw the ball, here? Would you run? Why,” says Arky, “Like with most things with kids, you give them a little and if they look interested keep going.”
And relate it back to the football pool. “We’re all a little self-interested. When you talk about why Team B needs a turnover to get the ball, and the most likely way is to intercept a pass. You need Team A to throw so Team B can get the ball. It’s all about relating it to their selfish needs,” he says.
Flickr / Jeffrey Beall
Don’t Over Explain, Because Nobody Cares
Why don’t teams always go for it on fourth down? No need to exhausting yourself explaining how statistically they really should.
“One of questions I get from my daughter a lot is ‘Why did they just kick the ball to the other team, it seems like they gave up,'” says Arky. “Even if they start to understand the rules, that’s a weird aspect of the game. Kids may get bored, but I don’t think they’re going to care about the intricacies of the game.”
Be Honest About A Dangerous Sport
“My 9-year-old is really concerned when people get hurt,” says Arky. “She gets really bugged out. She want to know why are these adults cheering for this game when every 5 minutes one of them is being carted off the field,”
You have 2 options: Blame society or be honest and admit to the sport’s shortcomings. “I tell her it’s a game where guys are big and strong and try and tackle each other, and sometimes people get hurt. During the Super Bowl parents hold their breath a little bit and hope that nothing horrible happens,” says Arky.
Focus On Good Sportsmanship
Instead of cheering for a bone-crushing hit, redirect the focus to the sportsmanship angle. “It doesn’t always play out the way you hope, but a lot of times after a guy makes a hit he’ll help the other guy up or congratulate them on a good play. And there are teachable moments when they’re not good sports.”
When All Else Fails, There’s Nachos
Let your kids know that Super Bowl culminates with a giant spread of chips, dips, wings, pizza, chili, all covered by a fine layer of nacho cheese and they’ll be able to run around unsupervised for a couple of hours. You want to know who the winner of Super Bowl 50 is? It’s kids.