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Though the NFL’s fan base was once considered to be heavily male, women now make up nearly half of the viewing audience. Last year alone, women spent more than $150 million on fan apparel. And guess what -- the jerseys don’t come in just pink anymore.

EVERYONE HAS A SUNDAY RITUAL
. It might involve church, a little gardening, maybe a picnic with the family, or a nice, relaxing drive, but for some 120 million National Football League fans, Sundays during the months of September through January are reserved for one thing: football. It’s America’s game. We are the pigskin nation. For this particular ritual, you need a neighborhood sports bar or a living room, a rowdy group of friends, pitchers of your favorite brew, and foods that are only recommended for consumption once a week. I myself, like so many Americans, toss on a jersey; plan my day accordingly around early, midafternoon, and night games; scream at the TV with reckless abandon; and openly admit to drinking the NFL Kool-Aid every single week. But here’s the thing: I have ovaries. In fact, when you look around the bar, the stadium, the luxury box, or the media room, there are a lot of us. And we don’t just follow football; we love football.

AS SURPRISING AS
it may sound, women now represent more than 40 percent of the NFL fan base, which means it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing female fan bases in all of sports. It’s estimated that 45 million women watch NFL games each weekend and that 375,000-plus attend the matchups in person. Super Bowl XLIII, which featured the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, had the second-largest number of female viewers of any sporting event in the last 15 years, just behind the Nancy Kerrigan/ Tonya Harding face-off at the 1994 Winter Olympics. According to Nielsen Research, the NFL estimates that 38.3 million women watched the Steelers hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy, outweighing the total number of all viewers, male and female, who watched the 2009 Academy Awards. Another worthy note: The burly Steel City’s team boasts the largest female following of any NFL team.

So why the sudden growth in the number of female fans? Did the players get cuter? Did stadiums introduce mani/ pedi service during halftime? Many theories exist, but the fact remains that football is the most popular sport in America for a reason. It’s not just about a game; football comes with a socialization aspect. There are few, if any, other sports that bring so many people together socially with a make-a-day-of-it frame of mind. From Super Bowl parties to tailgating festivities, the entertainment value of football lies in the camaraderie that is shared by fellow fans and in the excitement of a heated rivalry. So passion for the game fits firmly in the female wheelhouse. For me, my social festivities include hosting Chilifest each NFL season. It began as a small thing, but now the event is a favorite among my viewing friends -- and it’s even gotten me a marriage proposal here and there. (I suppose there’s some truth to food and football being the ways to a man’s heart.)

Or take Whitney Davidson, for example, a Dallas-based public relations professional whose entire day revolves around when the Cowboys are playing. “All errands and house chores must be done before the game,” she says. “On a cold day, we start a fire in the fireplace, and I cook tortilla soup. It’s my favorite time of the year.”

Maeve McCaffrey, a personal trainer in Los Angeles and a New England Patriots diehard, feels the same way. “Sunday becomes the one day where I usually don’t plan for anything else but watching football. If other things come up, they get fit in around the games. … It’s the time of year when Sunday becomes my day,” she says.