Flowers and First Downs
Before they met their future NFL husbands, most of these young women were strong-willed and goal-oriented with high self-esteem, a far cry from the stereotype of the shallow, calculating gold-digger the media sometimes portrays. In fact, for many couples, the man's eventual success in the NFL would not have been possible without the emotional and sometimes financial support of his girlfriend or spouse.

. . . An avid college hoops fan, Jackie quickly became annoyed by the distracting commotion in the stands. Before the game had started, and even after it had, numerous spectators, including many of what she calls "giddy girls," began asking the soon-to-be-drafted Jerry for his autograph. People considered him the best wide receiver to come out of the small Division I-AA Mississippi Valley State. Jerry had amassed an astounding career total of 4,693 receiving yards, and he was turning the heads of NFL scouts from Green Bay to Dallas.

. . . For Dwight, Chandra was refreshing: here was a woman who loved ESPN, yet did not dwell on the fact that Dwight played professional football. Chandra was interested in his career, but she was firmly committed to her own as well, and her intellect and independence impressed Dwight. For one thing, she never assumed that he should pay for her meals; she always offered to pay her share. Later on, when the two were dating seriously and Chandra traveled to Florida, she paid for her own plane tickets.

Sundays Are More than "Just a Game"
Many fans have an emotional stake in "their" team's game, and maybe a financial one, such as a small wager with friends. For NFL families, the stakes are much higher. For a player who has not yet made the team, that day's performance, or lack thereof, could make the difference between whether or not the couple has health insurance at the time their baby is born. A key loss for a coach might mean another firing, which means finding another job in another city, which means, once again, uprooting the couple's children in the midst of the school year.

Most NFL women realize that for football fans, voicing their displeasure as well as their excitement is part of the game. Even the injury-causing violence that makes NFL wives shudder is part of the "entertainment" of football. Fans come to have a good time, and these things are part of it. As Pat Kennan says wryly, "Fans like to second-guess." Unfortunately, some fans do more than just criticize the play-calling or briefly boo a costly mistake. They belittle and berate. They disparage and attack and punish. They get personal and just plain nasty.

. . . "And the guy behind me starts yelling, 'Yeah, stop making a big deal. It is football. Let them play, let them play. Get your ass back on the field.' All because they paused for a minute."

A Woman in a Man’s Game
Several women stated that feeling valued by their partner made it easier for them to separate from his job. When NFL men recognize and respect the roles of wife, mother, household manager, and so on, NFL women maintain a stronger sense of self. In their most important relationship, their marriage, NFL women come to know that they are more than a "football wife."

One woman said it is "definitely" difficult for NFL women to carve out their own personality, but she added, "Fortunately, my husband gives me a lot of recognition and support that I need in my life. If he didn't do that, it would be more difficult."

. . . One rookie player's wife was honest and self-aware in her observations: "Some people have beautiful jewelry, really pretty jewelry, and normal people don't wear that type of jewelry. As a woman, I think you are just naturally drawn to beauty, and there is that jealousy that, I think, can spark in just about anyone. It's a pressure I think that we each put on ourselves, and it really has a lot to do with your self-confidence and whether you really want to compete or not."

Hello-Goodbye in the Not-For-Long League
. . . Another coach's wife now sees the first firing almost as a right of passage. While she says you "get really hurt," she maintains: "You are not a real coach until you have been fired. You have to learn how to be resilient in this business, and you have to learn how to promote yourself, and you have to know how to network. All those things are important in being a professional coach. It is a good old boys society of who knows who."

. . . One player's girlfriend remembered receiving a call from her boyfriend's aunt and uncle the day after he was released from training camp. "Why didn't the coach like you?" they probed their nephew. "Aren't you good enough?" In some cases, family members have become dependent on their son's, brother's, or cousin's income, and this only adds to the pressure and stress of a cut or firing.

. . . After Mike left for his tryout, Kathy held a yard sale. She says, "I just knew that he had signed a huge NFL contract, and we would be wealthy and we would be moving to Dallas. I thought, 'Okay, I want to get rid of this junky stuff,' which I probably bought at a yard sale anyway. So, I sold all of our furniture."

Raising Football Kids
In today's highly mobile society, many families deal with moving at some point, but few do it as frequently and regularly as NFL families. The nearest comparison is probably military life, and army brats and NFL kids do tend to grow up with similar issues and strengths. They tend to mature more quickly, learn to make friends readily, and consider the world their home. It is nearly impossible for fathers to hide their physical pain when, after the game, their hands are swollen and bandaged and icepacks are wrapped around every joint. Kids quickly learn that Dad can't wrestle or play with them because he hurts.

. . . One player's wife says it's important to be honest about injuries. She says, "When he comes home, they need to know why he is hurt, and that is the reason why he doesn't want to play with them."

Big-Time Money? Not for Everyone
Some stories involved parents who expected their sons to pick up their mortgages or buy them new cars, and others involved friends who had found "great investments" and just needed a little cash. It didn't matter if the player was a practice squad "jake" or an All-Pro vet, once he had a contract of any kind, family and friends often showed up to request their share.

. . . In general, it is likely that NFL families are probably no more or less generous with their money than people in other high-paying professions. However, the family and friends of an experienced computer programmer or lawyer making six figures annually probably don't have the same sense of entitlement toward their income. Some may, but probably not with the regularity that NFL women describe.

. . . Not long after her marriage, a player's wife expressed shock at her mate's spending habits: "He told me that he lent someone twenty thousand dollars, and at that point I was like, Where are we? What is going on? I thought we were doing fine, but when I finally looked at things, he was paying four mortgages: his mother's; a house he had bought as an investment; his first house that he had moved out of, that he wasn't being very aggressive about selling; and our house. At a certain point, I took over the bills."


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