If you think the teams competing in the Super Bowl this Sunday are under intense pressure, consider the predicament Michael Thomas is in. A diehard football fan, Mr. Thomas has watched every game this season either alone or huddled around the tube with guy friends who share his pigskin passion. But now, with the championship game on the horizon, his wife wants to watch it with him and his pals.
"I watch football all year and my wife wants nothing to do with it. Now it's the biggest game of the year and she wants to ruin it," says Mr. Thomas, a 35-year-old financial planner who lives in Burlington, Ont.
Most men are happy to watch the big game with the women in their lives - even if they are tuning in just for the commercials and the players' tight pants. (And yes, there are women who like the game itself). It is a cultural event, after all. But some men are sports nuts, extreme fans who believe that knowing the difference between a neutral zone infraction and offside, or having Drew Brees' passing stats memorized, is a prerequisite to enjoying the half-time show.
And it is these guys who, each Super Bowl weekend, find themselves in a prickly dilemma: Do they anger their wives or girlfriends by rejecting their company, or bring them along to watch the game and spoil the pinnacle of the NFL season?
"It's a delicate situation," explains Edmonton's Ryan Gallivan, editor of the sports-focused thegallyblog.com.
Adam Fowler, a 32-year-old commercial insurance broker, has already had one friend decline an invitation to his Super Bowl party because wives will be in attendance. "He absolutely refuses," says Mr. Fowler, who runs the blog canadasportsguy.com "He said, 'I'll come over next Friday for a beer, but I'm not coming over Sunday, that's for sure.'"
Three guys are coming over to Mr. Fowler's house for the game. One of them is bringing his wife, who is not a sports fan.
"I'm going to try to have to manage that dilemma. How do we keep the focus on the game and not start talking about the colours that my wife and her friend want to paint my new living room?" he says.
Mr. Fowler is hoping volume control will be the key to solving his problems. "You've got to just make it so it's just loud enough so you can't start a detailed conversation."
As well, he plans to give the women a quick tutorial on the ins and outs of the game. "Just before the game starts, we will have the football 101." He is going to explain common penalties, the four down system and will also take questions.
Finally, in the hopes of sparking interest in the game, guests will be able to bet on things like who will win the coin toss or score first in the second half.
"You got to try to suck in the non-sports fans as much as you can," he says.
Last year, the blogger Kdouble, 28, who works in finance in New York and only goes by his web handle, found himself watching the game surrounded by women.
"I entered the room with thoughts of Super Bowl boxes and queso dip; I left with my mouth open and images that may never let me watch football the same [way]again," he wrote on the site steelcloset.com.
As the few guys in attendance tried to focus on the game, the women could not stop talking about the players' other, shall we say, qualities.
"The indelible image should have been Santonio [Holmes]rsquo;s geometry-defying catch and Ben [Roethlisberger]rsquo;s once-in-a-bucket-of-balls throw. Nope. You know what mine is? It's of Larry Fitzgerald's ass," he wrote.
It's scenarios like this that make sports fans tremble.
A few days before last year's Super Bowl, a man took to an online message board seeking advice on the girlfriend question. "The game comes first. No exceptions," one guy said, echoing the majority. But one respondent suggested that if the guy really loved his girlfriend, he should record the game and spend a romantic evening with her.
The suggestion sent one forum member over the edge.
"Maybe for a game, but this isn't just a game. It's the ****ing Super Bowl. If anything, his girlfriend should be recorded and viewed at a later time," he wrote.
Guys are in a good negotiating position this year, says Kim Hughes, a relationships expert for Lavalife.com. Valentine's Day is the week after the game. "Even if a guy tended to watch football with his girlfriend or his wife, and he felt sort of bad about excluding her, he could perhaps strike a reasonable bargain with her, saying 'You know what, honey, this is really meaningful to me. And if you could just let me have this night with the guys it'll give me all the more incentive to really make it a super Valentine's Day next Sunday,' " she says.
James Bassil, editor-in-chief of AskMen.com, says guys should feel free to put their foot down.
"Present it individually to your partners as a guys-only thing and be frank and direct about it."
But what about the guy who sticks to his guns in the face of fierce opposition? Just how much is he putting his relationship in jeopardy?
"If she's not going to give you your guys' night out, then you've got bigger issues," Mr. Bassil says. "Maybe it's a relationship that you should jeopardize anyway."
Editor's note: The article has been modified.