December 18, 2012
My Lost Weekend with Football
There are so many ways I could start this. How you’ve been gone for so long. How I was in a different area code, so it might not even count. But you probably don’t want to hear the excuses. Yes, I know Rogers Hornsby wouldn’t have done this to you. He would have waited for spring and looked out the window and blah, blah, bullshitty blah. Some of us aren’t that strong, though. I’m not Rogers Hornsby. I never hit four-God-damn-twenty-four either. And yes, I cheated on you this weekend with football.
And you know what? It felt really good.
It started Thursday night in a moment of weakness. It was nothing really, just the Bengals and Eagles, but it felt dangerous and so on Sunday we were back at it. All day and all night.
There was this excitement that I never got on a regular basis from you. Sure there was our all-time climax of climaxes in Game 162, and there were dozens of great moments from this year alone. But I sat several drinks in Sunday night talking playoff scenarios two weeks from the end of the season. The whole thing was a scintillating puzzle, and you know what? With football you can do this every year.
If you already found the bus ticket, then there’s really no reason for me to tell you that I snuck off to New York City for the weekend fling. Maybe that makes it worse, doing it in one of your solidly loyal towns as opposed to a football ground like Pittsburgh or Denver. Manhattan is a funny football town. Walk around Philadelphia on a Sunday and you’ll know it’s unmistakably an Eagles day. New York, however, is without even mentioning the millions of immigrants and natives who don’t care one bit about football, such a city of transplants (at least Manhattan is) that it doesn’t feel like a Giants day.
Not that it’s going to make you feel any better to hear the details, but I watched the Texans-Colts game at a bar of Houston transplants—Idle Hands in Alphabet City, for those interested in the same ride. Let it be known that the scenery was no Foley’s, a place you undoubtedly know well, but there was something exhilarating about cheering every play in a regular season game with strangers who share a vague and distant common experience. Pittsburgh-Dallas, I watched at a friend’s apartment and New England-San Francisco at a sad, empty bar that was trying to close. A fittingly ugly nightcap to an ugly fling with an ugly but captivating game.
It was 10 hours that I don’t regret, but knowing you and your wisdom of 150 years, you’re probably going to want me to come back telling you I learned something. And I did. I learned a lot.
I learned that I could never fall in love with football the way I have with you. First of all, it was hard to watch, not knowing if all 276 players I saw (46-man active rosters times six teams) would walk out of the stadium. I know you almost decapitated Brandon McCarthy and are responsible for quite a few men in their 50s and 60s without functioning shoulders. But in the third quarter of the Sunday night game, 49ers safety Dashon Goldson was penalized for a vicious hit on a “defenseless receiver” and the penalty, not the hit, was what lit up my twitter feed about how football had lost its way. It might have been legal by the rules, but if loving that is right, I don’t want to be right.
Besides, football is meant for the quick and dirty, not for the long-term commitment. It’s 16 games separated by six days of mostly laughable analysis that you’ll get when analysts are asked by their bosses for trends based on tiny sample sizes. For as mind-numbing as some baseball analysis is, football’s is 10 times worse, at least what reaches the relatively uninitiated like me. The post-mortem to the Giants’ loss to the Falcons was once again a treatise on whether Eli Manning was “elite”—a forced binary that took root when his teams won two Super Bowls apparently without any input from the rest of the squad. At least we’ve started to trek past this with pitcher wins. It’s sort of like how CBS used a graphic describing Andrew Luck’s six fourth-quarter comebacks, rather than the Colts’ six, including the one that turned on an interception return for a touchdown. Who does this guy think he is, Jack Morris?
From someone who used to trash football before this little fling, I’ll acknowledge it’s a fun three hours. The strategy is fascinating, and if you can get past the potential for serious injury, the game is an enjoyable watch, as the ratings no doubt will reflect for the umpteenth week in a row. It was fun to spend a day with three games on television, all of which swung playoff odds or entire conferences’ scenarios wildly. It’s something that with all the reasons we love you, baseball, you’ll never be able to provide with any regularity.
I’ll come crawling back. For all the things that make me want to grow old together with you—the rationality, the regularity, the beauty of the game. (Not the smell of the grass and the sound of the glove, though. In a thousand words of overly sentimental crap, that’s where I’m drawing the overly sentimental crap line.) Besides, I’m not sure it would even be possible to grow old with football with the concussion storm that’s just starting to hit the game and threatens to tear it down from the bottom up.
But if you’re expecting all of us to be Rogers Hornsby—that’s not going to end well. When I look out the window, I see temptation, and for that I won’t apologize.
Love always and forever and ever until you add another wild card,