It was inevitable, I guess. After all, how many little girls beg for a football helmet for their fourth birthday? And how many of them tell the coach of their ninth-grade intramural flag-football team to play me or trade me? "You're a young lady," my mother used to say, shaking her head. "Honestly, sometimes I think you forget that."
What did she expect? I grew up in Packer country when Bart Starr could do no wrong and Vince Lombardi was always right. Every July I made a pilgrimage to Green Bay with my father to watch the Packers practice. Every fall I'd tuck myself inside a stadium bag and brave the cold to watch the green and gold.
"You're your father's daughter," my mother would say as we went out the door with our binoculars dangling from the shoulders of our ski jackets. "Sometimes I think you sit in those below-zero temperatures just to get out of cleaning your room."
So when I called home one winter afternoon during my junior year at Stanford, bubbling over with my exciting news, my parents weren't the least bit surprised to hear me say, "I'm taking a course called Theory and Technique of Football."
My father was elated at the thought of my studying with Bill Walsh, then the Stanford head coach, now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. It wasn't a thought to elate my mother, of course.
" Walsh is an offensive genius," my dad said.
"I'll be learning from the best," I agreed. "He made Ken Anderson. He turned San Diego into a real power...."
"But, Jill," my mother said, "do you realize that with the exorbitant tuition at Stanford, classes are worth $45 an hour? What ever happened to calculus or chemistry? You always liked French. How about a French class? Why don't you take something taught by a Nobel Prizewinner?"
'Football isn't for young ladies' seemed to be the underlying, familiar message.
Soon after, under the guidance of my professors—that is, football coaches like Doug Single, Norb Hecker, Dennis Green and Walsh—I doodled X's and O's for an entire quarter. I was enraptured by the intricacies of draw plays, flex defenses, post patterns, hooks and curls, 3-4's, 4-3's, nickel D's, and I's and T's. Twice a week we watched films, backward and forward—Hold it! Stop that play! See Guy Benjamin throw the ball. See James Lofton catch it.