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The Pointy Ball Game

David and I were waiting for one of the guys behind the desk to find our room reservation on his monitor when his coworker, looking at me, said, “So, are you excited for the game?”

I turned my head to see if he might be talking to someone behind me. When I was sure there was no one else around, I turned back to him and said, “Which sport are you talking about?” Then, more quietly, to David, “Baseball is summer, so he means basketball or football, right?”

With a polite smile, the guy (whom I guessed to be in his early 20s) answered, “Football. The Texans are playing. Sorry, it’s just — women around here are really into sports. They watch football and drink beer, I figured…” A flush creeped up his cheeks.

“Oh, that’s the one with the pointy ball, right? Don’t let the sweatshirt fool you, I’m fresh off a plane,” I quipped. “But we’re in Texas now, and that’s your team, so, go, your team!” I pumped one fist in the air to show him I meant it. As David was collecting our room keys from guy number one, I leaned toward guy number two conspiratorially and said, “Were you serious about the beer?” He nodded. We were in Houston for an exhibition of David’s photography at the John Cleary Gallery. I made a mental note not to pinch my face like a baby eating a lemon if the gallerist were to offer me any kind of beer other than Imperial Stout.

On the elevator ride up to our room, I said, “The Texans — are they the team for the whole state? Or a city?”

David began to answer, thought better of it, and consulted his phone instead. By the time we reached our room, he had a verified response: “Texans are the Houston team — I don’t think any states have teams, just cities.” We nodded at each other — any day we learn something is a good day.

That night, we went to a Portuguese tapas bar about a mile from our hotel (David always checks Chowhound for foodie recommendations when we’re on the road). While waiting for a table in the hip and lively strip-mall restaurant, David called my attention to a table of six women. “The guy at the hotel was right,” he said. “Listen to them.”

Sure enough, the topic of conversation among the group of decked-out ladies was the game — and not in general terms, either. These gals were using names, positions; they were throwing out information that only die-hard fans could possibly know. And they were drinking beer. All that great wine from the Douro region of Portugal behind the bar, and they were drinking beer. I had to look away.

“It’s easier to spot a sports fan in San Diego,” I said. “They’re usually the ones wearing jerseys. Here… We’ll just have to assume anyone and everyone is in on it, the way everyone would jump onboard if the Chargers were to make it this far in the season again. Jesus, I need to brush up before your show! Or at least I should know who the Texans are playing, in case anyone mentions it.”

On Sunday, the day after David’s opening reception (at which no one ended up mentioning the game, which was a good thing, as I’d already forgotten which teams were playing), we checked out of the hotel and went to the lobby lounge to have lunch while we waited for the shuttle that would take us to the airport. It was almost noon, which we soon learned was game time. “Psst,” I said to David once we were seated in a corner far away from the bar. I held up the special menu. “Their prix fixe for today’s game lunch includes two beers.”

There was no way to avoid the game, even if we’d wanted to. Fortunately, I didn’t mind the static background of announcers or the guys at the bar who stared at the monitors and made intermittent grunting noises, which differed slightly in pitch according to whether or not they agreed with what was happening on the screen.

We were collected at 1:30 p.m.; it wasn’t long before the guy who was riding shotgun in the van asked our driver to tune the radio to the game. The man in the front seat annoyed me — he kept a running commentary to no one in particular, lecturing the driver (who had admitted to not being a sports fan) about what it would take for the Texans to win. He said things such as “run the line” and “offensive and defensive.” I wondered why, if he was so sure of what it would take for the team to win, he wasn’t on the field assisting the coach.

After we’d checked our suitcase and made it through the TSA gauntlet (where the metal of my zipper landed me in the grope zone), David and I stood at our gate, where all heads were turned toward a flat-screen television. I’d never witnessed such a quiet waiting area at the airport. There were only minutes left in the game, and the Texans needed one more touchdown to save themselves. With fewer than two minutes left, they came close to getting it when one of their opponents knocked the ball out of a Texan’s hands. The crowd around us let out a collective groan.

“I guess the Orioles are good,” I said quietly to David. “I mean, that was a great block, so they must deserve it, because they’re good. Wait — is that their name?” It didn’t sound right to me. After a moment, remembering the live mascot we’d seen earlier while at the hotel, David set me straight — the Texans were playing the Ravens. “I think Orioles is baseball,” he said.

“Well, the birds are good — even I could tell that was an awesome block. Looks like they took this one,” I said. As we lined up to board the plane, I made sure to check the score — 20 to 13. It felt good to know something about the game.

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