Sunday Football & The Third Place


"The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting from the home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends.”

– Ray Oldenburg, urban sociologist, author of The Great Good Place

November 6, 2011, Washington, DC:  I am not a football fan. But I confess I’m the slightest bit envious of those who are. Football fans, no doubt, will scoff at the reason. It has nothing to do with the sport itself and everything to do with the camaraderie of the Sunday ritual.

Perhaps more so than any other sport, football brings people out of their homes and into our public spaces to celebrate and commiserate over a shared passion. Buoyed by the energy of television commentators who have a blast on the job each Sunday morning, neighbors emerge from their apartments donned in their hometown colors with a childlike joy for the day ahead.

Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg defined third places as those other spaces we rely upon beyond home and work. I think third places shine on autumn Sunday afternoons. In my many neighborhoods, some stand-out third places have been a particular draw for football fans -- from the Buccaneer on San Francisco's Russian Hill to the now-shuttered Adams Mill Bar and Grill in Washington's Adam's Morgan. Our latest third place is shaping up to be Lola's on Barracks Row, a reliable spot with friendly staff, good food, and extra comfortable brown leather seats.

Interestingly, compared to the scene in less transient towns, these third places typically don't cater exclusively to fans of any one team. In neighborhoods I've called home, it's expected that our shared spaces are comprised of people from somewhere else. On Sundays, that means there are several televisions simultaneously broadcasting different games starring different hometowns. I like that people make friends with those dressed in the same colors and crowded around the same screen. I like too that they have opponents sitting next to them with whom to trade barbs, and others huddled in front of an adjacent television from a different part of the country entirely.

I'm envious of football fans for reasons that have nothing to do with football.