There is nothing quite as exhilarating as football Sunday when women all over America leave their homes en masse and head for the stores while their mates are safely ensconced in front of the tube. I cherish those sacred moments of football widowhood when I am free to roam the shops with wild abandon.

Men have never learned the error of their ways, or just how dangerous the game of football can be. Women can do more damage in an afternoon than most football players in an entire season. While Mark was home assuming his couch potato position, cheering his team on and devouring the Fritos, I was hitting the mall like a woman on a mission.

"See you later," I said.

"Yeah," Mark said, without looking up. "Later."

I checked my wallet, lining up my credit cards for easy access. "I'll be back in a few hours."

"Don't rush. The game will be going on for hours."

He waved me out the door grateful to have an afternoon in which to indulge his addiction. While he did his thing, I did mine ... with a vengeance.

That afternoon, the stores were bustling with shoppers, most of them women, who had left their men behind, oblivious to what was about to ensue -- men who cared about only one thing: whether their team was going to score a touchdown.

It is hard to imagine what can happen to a perfectly good male over a football weekend. He can deteriorate very quickly and morph into a guy whose IQ diminishes each hour he watches the game. Take a perfectly normal man and stick him in front of the TV, and his mind turns to mush. He regresses to a place so deep that by the end of the day he can be rendered legally embryonic.

To be a full-fledged football widow, there are rules to follow in order to maintain marital compatibility.

Rule No. 1: When a football game is on, a woman must clear the area or remain mute.

Rule No. 2: She is allowed to speak only at halftime, but just to ask the score.

Rule No. 3: She must never pass in front of the TV during a game as a play might be missed.

Rule No. 4: She is take all food offers quietly and efficiently, and then disappear into the kitchen to prepare the menu.

Rule No. 5: Football is analogous to a religious experience. A woman must not invade a man's football space. This is the Holy Land and must be treated as sacred territory.

Rule No. 6: The above mentioned space, aka the garbage dump, is off-limits to women. It consists of the couch, the coffee table and rug onto which is tossed various and sundry items: nut shells, pizza crusts, cheese dip, corn chips, beer cans, a pair of athletic shoes, dirty socks and an assortment of pastel-colored toothpicks.

Before I wised up, I tried being a good sport pretending I cared about the game. I even learned the football lingo: Hail Mary pass, Pooch Kick and Flea Flicker. I discovered that a zebra is not an animal, but the official who calls the play. I know now that a tight end has nothing to with being fit, and that a screen pass is not a Hollywood kiss, but a short forward pass over the heads of rushing defensemen.

On a recent afternoon, I sat down with Mark to watch the game. I lasted until half-time when I sank into a state of confusion. Desperate, I called the Football Widow's 800 Hotline and spoke to a sports shrink, who told me I needed to develop a proper pigskin attitude. She further explained that after the games are over, men suffer separation anxiety where the only solution is to allow them to verbally review in minute detail the plays of each game. Weaning them away from the TV is no small feat. "But," she said, "You can always go shopping. That's what lots of women do. That way, you don't have to get involved."

And so, this past weekend, I headed for the mall, displacing my widowhood at emporiums as gratifying to me as a football field is to Mark. While he watched the Dolphins and the Saints go at it, I dropped a bundle on a new fall wardrobe.

When I returned, Mark was lying on the couch, his eyes glazed over with a disgruntled look on his face. The pillows had permanent imprints of his butt. He had overdosed on a bucket of KFC, a quart of ice cream, three frozen corn dogs and a tub of Buffalo Wings polished off by a six-pack of beer. The worst news was that he had fallen asleep during half-time, and never saw the final play.

Now he informs me he wants to have the guys over for Monday Night Football.

"Great," I said sounding like one of the boys, "Maybe I can dress up as a cheerleader and be part of the festivities.

"Yeah," he said, "And I'm counting on you to keep the food and drinks coming."

I had no choice but to flea-flicker Mark, but he blocked my pass so I sacked him with a defensive line pass tackle, threw him a shotgun buttonhook, and nose-dived him down the line of scrimmage scoring a touchdown.

Who says I don't know the score?

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every Wednesday in the Westport News. She can be reached via e-mail at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.