Nice While It Lasted

There are certain words and phrases that, at one time in my life, I never believed I would utter. Just a short list of those would include “breast pump,” “I will turn this car around right now!”, and “Academy Award winner Whoopi Goldberg.” Today, though, I believe I just added a few more to the list.

I hate the NFL.

To be clear, I don’t ever really remember liking the game of football. Maybe it was because I was always too small to play it. I weighed about 130 pounds when I graduated high school, so the thought of throwing my body around on the gridiron was never really that appealing to me. Even before that, though, as a kid playing touch football on the playground, the game just never interested me that much. There was always something stagnant about it to me. Whereas a game like basketball involved constant motion, football involved a lot of moving for a few seconds and then several more seconds of standing around or walking back to the line of scrimmage after each play. Whatever the reason, I still can’t even throw a good spiral.

Trying to be a fan of professional or college football proved to be even harder for me than the desire to play the game. Occasionally, a group of personalities like the ’85 Bears would come along and get my attention for a little bit, but I would eventually wander back to baseball or basketball. I did the Super Bowl party thing for a few years, but that was more to be around other people; I could have cared less about the outcome of the game (That is, unless the Patriots were playing. I’d root for the team of prison guards from The Longest Yard over Bill “The Cheat” Belichick.). In fact, I didn’t even watch the Super Bowl this past year.

The lags I had experienced playing the game were a thousand times worse trying to watch it. Granted, baseball games can take forever to play, but at least with every pitch there is the potential for some type of outcome. In a football game, plays are actually designed to simply waste time. Play after play of some running back driving head-first into five defenders right at the line of scrimmage, followed by a minute or two of huddling to draw up another play where some running back drives head-first into five defenders. It’s mind-numbing after a while.

I could go on and on with my list of why I’ve never been a fan of the game (only one game a week, unclear rules about who can touch who where, etc., etc.), but the reason today – the day the National Football League has ended it’s 130-plus day lockout – I can say I hate the NFL actually has little to do with how the game is actually played. What I hate today is how the NFL is elevated above other equally-deserving sports, coddled as if our country couldn’t go on without it, and worshiped like it is some high art form.

Actually, a lot of my hatred can be traced directly to ESPN. The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” may as well be The NFL Network, Jr., these days. The amount of hand-wringing done by ESPN broadcasters both on television and on ESPN Radio was borderline pathetic. Even before the lockout, though, ESPN had elevated the NFL to a ridiculous stature. I’ve honestly lost track of how many football analysts work there now (Actually, every network that carries football is guilty of that now. Seriously, how many guys do you really need to break down one game?). They break down play diagrams; they talk about second- and third-string players as if they were Pro-Bowlers; they seem to worship Belichick as some sort of deity; and they would talk up garbage teams like the Raiders and the Bills just to pump up ratings for crap games they would be showing.

The worst part, though, is the way ESPN has made it the mission of the network to convince you and I that everyone in the whole entire world thinks football is the greatest sport ever, watches no other sport besides football, and would die should there never be football played again. There’s nothing that irks me more than the “Everybody’s doing it!” tactic, and the NFL and its minions seem to have mastered it. “Football,” they say, “is what everyone watches on the weekend. Football is what everyone talks about on Monday morning. Football is what everyone waits for the rest of the week. Football is all you should care about.”

What amazes me is the level of success the NFL has had in promoting this mentality. It’s almost made the league bulletproof. Baseball has been hammered for its rampant steroid use, but Shawne Merriman accepted a suspension for steroid use in 2006 and made the Pro Bowl the next year. The NBA gets characterized as a thug league, but the NFL has active players who were involved in murder investigations (Ray Lewis), suspected sexual assaults (Ben Rothlisberger), and bankrolled a dog-fighting ring (Michael Vick). I’m not saying none of these guys deserve a second chance, but does anybody remember Gilbert Arenas was waving an unloaded gun around in the Wizards’ locker room a couple of years ago (and didn’t shoot himself in the leg with it like a high-profile NFL wide receiver did)?

And then came the Great Lockout of 2011. Rich, greedy owners trying to take money away from slightly less rich and unionized players. I loved every minute of it, not so much because both sides came out looking pretty bad (which I’m sure will be swept under the rug very shortly) but because networks like ESPN were forced to acknowledge the existence of other sports. We got to witness the Dallas Mavericks great title run in the NBA, the rise of small-market baseball wonders like the Pittsburgh Pirates, the oh-so-close World Cup chase of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, and golf without Tiger Woods (I could write a whole column on ESPN’s Tiger worship alone…). For me, at least, the sports sky turned blue again…

Then, suddenly, today, it was all over. The owners and the players finally agreed, and everywhere I turned someone was talking about free agents, incoming rookies, and how difficult it was going to be for teams to prepare for the regular season without the usual prep time (By the way, it could be that the players this year are actually fresher, considering they didn’t have to go through the grueling ritual of two-a-days.). Parity among sports was gone. The status quo had returned – watch one game a week and then spend the rest of the week talking about it. Head down, drive it in…

I guess, instead of focusing on my hate, I should remember the good times of the past few weeks. With the NBA in lockout mode now (and judging by the fact that everyone seems to have their next season off completely) and baseball’s wild card races not quite heating up yet, though, non-football news is going to be tough to come by for the next few days. This might actually lead me another series of words I never thought I’d say: “Just turn the darn thing off.”

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