And so it begins.
Cool nights, warm days. Crunchy leaves on the ground. And football. Ah, yes, my favorite time of year is coming.
Football really is the crown jewel of this time of year. I grew up watching the sport with my dad and sister. He loved the Cleveland Browns and so, of course, my sister and I were quickly reeled in.
As Rhonda and I got older, we surpassed dad's interest in the sport and became football fanatics. We attended as many Browns home games as possible and even started going on fun road trips-Arizona in 2007 and Miami in 2010. (A trip in between was thwarted due to my uncooperative stem cells. How dare they cause me to miss a Browns game!) For many years, I ran and played in a football pool. I research players for my fantasy football team much like a person would review information before purchasing a new car. To say I'm a die-hard football junkie would be a bit of an understatement.
So perhaps it was inevitable that I met and fell in love with a Pittsburgh Steelers fan-a fan just as die-hard and fanatical as I was. Justin knew football, he knew Steelers football, and he loved his team dearly.
This could be a problem.
At first, I tried to ignore it. Maybe, if I tried really hard, it would go away. It didn't. When I started watching Sunday football games at his house, it was next to impossible to ignore his love for all things black and gold. He watched games from the edge of his seat, yelling and cheering as if he were in the crowd. Oh, and there was the mask-the black and gold lucha libre wrestling mask he wore during Steelers games. I think I'm pretty good at blocking things out, but when you've got a masked football goon hopping around the room on Sunday, well, it's pretty hard to look past that.
But they say love is blind, so I tolerated the Terrible Towels, the overdone Browns jokes and the weekly victory dances. He was having so much fun, and I didn't want to upset him. But my patience was wearing thin.
And then a well-meaning coworker purchased a tent-sized Pittsburgh flag for Justin during a Secret Santa gift exchange. Justin felt it appropriate to hang said flag across the entire fireplace. I let it go for a week or two before I snapped.
"That flag is NOT staying there," I told him. "I am sick of looking at a Steelers flag every time I come in this room."
"It doesn't say Steelers anywhere! It just says Pittsburgh," Justin pointed out with a cheesy grin.
Justin claimed I told him if he took it down, he could hang it outside next football season. I don't recall telling him it was ok to hang that flag outside. I don't care that we live at the end of a dead-end street and our neighbor's house is unoccupied. I can't take a risk that someone I know would see that flag and then see me entering or leaving the house. I am a BROWNS fan-how embarrassing would that be for me? Why would I possibly suggest something like that? So I insisted that I must have meant he could hang it outside in the back. You know, where nobody could see it.
Perhaps as punishment, Justin suggested I accompany him to a Steelers game. I gasped. But, I do like football, so I agreed to go. My intention was to follow the Browns game on my phone and dress in neutral clothing.
That's when he dropped this bomb: "You have to wear a shirt designed specifically for this section. It's called 'The Terrible Ticket'."
I gulped. "Can I wear it under my sweatshirt underneath my zipped up jacket?"
"No," Justin said with a smile. "It has to be the outer-most layer."
Who made up these silly rules? Was the Terrible Ticket squad going to police the section and toss out anyone who wasn't wearing the shirt? Hmm . . . well actually, that might not have been such a bad idea.
So we compromised. I would go and wear the shirt. However, there would be NO PHOTOS of me in the shirt (he broke that rule about five nanoseconds after I had the shirt on) and as retribution, he had to wear a Browns shirt-in public-at a time and place of my choosing.
I can honestly say I don't remember much of the game. I diverted my attention by people-watching, eating and drinking, and texting back and forth with my sister. Occasionally, I would glance at the action on the field, but the seats were terrible and I needed a telescope to see the football. (I suppose this is where the brain trust came up with "The Terrible Ticket," meaning seats at Station Square had a better vantage point.)
Luckily, my trip to Miami to watch the Browns play the Dolphins came up a few weeks later, so I was able to erase all things Pittsburgh from my memory. As an early Christmas gift, Justin bought me a Browns jersey to wear at the game. When I opened the gift, he announced loudly, "This doesn't mean I like the Browns!"
In a stroke of bad luck for me, the Steelers made the Super Bowl, which only extended the Sunday mask-wearing, dancing, screaming spectacle that was my fiance. Justin even subjected me to listening to Steelers Super Bowl rap songs over and over and over. My ears were bleeding. I put up with way more than any good Browns fan should have to endure.
The offseason proved to be a nice break for my brain, my eyes and my ears. But once the NFL settled its labor dispute, it was back to football and, sigh, back to all things Steelers for Justin.
Fortunately, I won't be watching the games at home on the NFL's opening weekend. I'll be sitting in the sunshine, screaming and barking along with my fellow Browns fans from my seat inside Cleveland Browns Stadium. Justin, of course, will be sitting next to me, forcibly trying not to vocalize his disgust too loudly.
But don't feel bad for Justin. He's going to look like a million bucks wearing that Browns shirt.