Heather Lefler sat in a soccer trance in front of a 72-inch television screen two hours before lunch in an otherwise empty Camarillo, Calif., sports bar. History book shunted aside, a newspaper unfurled to Olympic coverage, she pleaded, cajoled and celebrated -- all of it loudly.
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" the 72-year-old widow shouted as the U.S. women's team scored a goal in its 4-2 Olympic victory over France on Wednesday. Clapping her hands, she hopped from a seat and trotted around the bar like a baseball player on a home-run trot.
When it comes to watching sports on television, men and women are Mars and Venus, according to a study published last year and circulated again in anticipation of the London Games. It suggests that while men may throw their attention at an event like an anvil, women carefully wedge their limited TV sports time in between or even during chores.
Dismissed by some and affirmed by others, the study contends some married women see watching sports as less about being a fan and more about being a partner. They use it to connect with a spouse or a child who may play basketball or baseball.
Lefler gets the point. After her husband died four years ago, she became a Pittsburgh Steelers fan partly as a way to bond with her son-in-law. But she watches soccer because she's a fanatic. She watches every minute, flashing an "are you crazy?" look at the suggestion there could be any other way.
During the Olympics, she'll watch every game the U.S. women play.
"Unless I'm dying. Unless I'm on oxygen," said Lefler, who's traveling to Cape Cod in early August and has scheduled her flight so it doesn't conflict with any games.
Published in the journal Communication, Culture and Critique, the study on women and televised sports was born from an effort to explain the less-than-meteoric ratings of women's sports. It suggests women are much less likely to commit an evening to the TV and are more likely to view sports as a background activity to fit between cooking, laundry and other household chores.
"For the women we talked to, the home was a workplace," said co-author Marie Hardin, citing other research that shows women assume more household responsibilities than their spouses.
Women often watch the games their spouses choose, said Hardin, associate director of research for the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University.
"In some ways, it becomes a form of work," she said. "They were sitting down in front of the television to accomplish time with their husband and time with their families."
But almost all the women in the study said they watch the Olympics, Hardin said. The coverage focuses on gymnastics, swimming and other sports rarely televised at other times of the year. It airs in tape-delayed segments during prime time.
"It's also packaged in a way that they don't have to make a long commitment to the television set," she said.
The study weaves research on gender, leisure time and household roles into focus-group interviews with 19 women between ages 26 and 43. Designed less to provide statistical conclusions, the study was constructed more to explore the reasons behind viewing habits and to spur more discussion.
Mention the premise that women watch sports as a way to connect with their partners to Cathy Samuel, a 50-year-old secretary from Ventura, Calif., and she smiles.
"I'm not going to watch a sport I'm not into just to connect," said the Olympics cycling fan, offering another strategy for dealing with someone watching a game that won't end. "I'd tell him to turn it off."
Kate Simonson, a 30-year-old Ventura resident, sees sports differently. If she's with a male friend, she'll watch whatever game he wants.
"Unless you're like really into sports, you're basically like a wing man," she said.
Interviewing 19 people doesn't create much of a foundation to reach concrete conclusions, said Daniel Durbin, director of the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media & Society. He asserted the NBC coverage of the Olympics revolves around women.
"The goal is to get the remote in some way into the woman's hands. It's been that way for 15 years," he said, suggesting programmers realize men will watch no matter what. Women are harder to attract.
The strategy is why boxing and other sports primarily linked to men get little prime-time coverage, Durbin said.
"The men will follow the women. The women won't necessarily follow the men," he said. "The goal is not to get more women than men. It's to get men and women and their kids."
The man in the red Olympics cap frowned at the notion. His wife likes NASCAR, which is good. She also watches "The Bachelorette," "Dancing With the Stars" and "American Idol."
"That would ruin the Olympics experience," said a smiling Dustan Howard, 59, of Ventura, "if they dedicated the programming to my wife's tastes."
Howard has a backup plan: watching whatever he wants on a second TV, in what he calls his man cave.
Denise Ellis has a girl cave in the garage of her Camarillo home. It's where she keeps the 40-inch television that she uses to buffer her kids from her obsession with NASCAR. But when it comes to watching football, racing or the Olympics with her significant other, football fan Richard Folck, they share each other's interests, if not always the remote.
"We have common interests. Even before we met, I would always sit and watch the Olympics. I would sit and watch 'Monday Night Football,' " she said, adding it's more fun to watch together. "Just the camaraderie, talking about it, bantering back and forth."
In between amped-up exhortations at the Camarillo sports bar, Lefler explained her soccer passion started when her daughters began playing the game. She said, although she lives with one of her kids, she'll control the remote during the Olympics because she has her own TV. Planning will get trickier in early August when she journeys to the East Coast. Her hosts aren't sports fans. But she won't miss a soccer game as long as she meets a self-imposed caveat to be slightly subdued.
"Just so I don't yell so much," she said.