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Shirley Leung

Workplace bonding can involve faking it through Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is almost here. That means it’s time for my annual head fake.

Fake that I follow football. Fake that I care who is playing. Fake that I can’t wait to watch the game.

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But this year I am asking myself: Shouldn’t I just be true to myself?

Women are taught that to make it in a man’s world you have to know sports. It’s a way for us to bond with the boys in the hopes of being treated as equals in the workplace. Sports, we are made to believe, is that one topic that brings everyone together — a neutral zone of office small talk.

Call me un-Patriotic, but faking it takes work.

Condi Rice I am not. The former US secretary of state is so into football she once called being commissioner of the National Football League her dream job.

And there are plenty of others like her. Women make up 20 percent of fantasy football players and 45 percent of NFL fans.

Then there’s the rest of us, forced to cram by reading Dan Shaughnessy and watching ESPN so we can come up with talking points. I think I’ll use this one this weekend: “Boy, Bill Belichick must really hate Wes Welker.”

But what if all that talk about offense and defense alienates the women and the nonjocks? Maybe women shouldn’t be just like the men because our differences are what make us unique.

Laurie Cohn is in that camp.

She unabashedly could not care less about football. Her colleagues know it, and just for kicks recently quizzed her on who is playing Sunday. She knew the Denver Broncos were half of the matchup because they beat the Patriots.

But as for the other team, Cohn said, “I honestly couldn’t remember.”

A lot of us would face ridicule for that answer, but not if you’re the chief executive. (Cohn runs Purchased, a Brookline-based mobile tech firm that tracks shopper behavior.)

Her advice? “I don’t think women should fake it. I don’t think women need to fake it.”

When it comes to talking about the Super Bowl, she has a stock response that keeps the conversation on her terms.

“I often use it as an opportunity to talk about how I go skiing on Super Bowl Sunday because there’s pretty much no one on the slopes,” she said.

Cohn is my new “Friday Night Lights” hero. Or in this case, my 6:30 p.m. Sunday hero.

But again, she’s the boss.

Reality is closer to what MIT Sloan School of Management professor Catherine Turco found in her research of the leveraged buyout world.

She learned sports was so ingrained in that culture that junior employees were called “good athletes” and “deal quarterbacks,” and that one recruitment firm recommended applicants familiarize themselves with sports terminology before interviews.

Women (and nonjocks alike) working in this sector felt as if they had to follow sports so they could connect with colleagues.

Navjeet Bal, an attorney at Nixon Peabody and a bonafide sports junkie, thinks it’s important for women to keep up with pro teams, especially in a sports-crazy town like Boston. It doesn’t take that much time, and the payoff is huge, Bal said. “You don’t have to dive deep on this stuff,” she said.

For example, here’s her tip on the Celtics: Mention this week’s emotional return of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to TD Garden for the first time since they were traded. Bal suggests saying something like this: “Wasn’t it great to have Pierce and Garnett back in the house?”

That seems easy enough.

But what about the Super Bowl? Play-by-play talk terrifies me. Football is so confusing. A jumble of bodies on the field all at once. I never know how many times the quarterback gets the ball. And what’s up with that yellow line on the field that my husband says only TV viewers see?

For the ultimate cheat sheet, I turned to the ultimate expert — Globe NFL writer Shalise Manza Young. So here it is — all you need to know about the Super Bowl:

If the Broncos win, Peyton Manning could go down as the best quarterback ever. Yes, even better than Tom Brady!

On the Seattle Seahawks, pay attention to trash-talking, braggadocious cornerback Richard Sherman and coach Pete Carroll, who is seeking redemption. He coached the Patriots before Belichick and has never won a Super Bowl.

With this Super Bowl’s talking points done, I guess I’m ready for some football. I can fake it one more year. At least until Bruno Mars takes the stage.

Shirley Leung can be reached at sleung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.
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