I’m a fairweather football fan, and the last 5+ years have been good ones for New England area fans, fairweather or die-hard. I watched the two games yesterday, Seahawks @ Bears and Patriots @ Chargers, and was immediately reminded why I just can’t get into the sport in any serious manner.
For those that don’t know, last weekend was the second round of the NFL’s 4-round playoff season. One of the reasons I think football is so popular is that it’s so easy to follow. There’s no grueling 162-game marathon, very few weeknight games, and a season ticket is only 8 regular-season games. I watched 50% of the entire league’s playoff games for this round in the space of a few hours, something that would require taking a sabbatical for a sport like basketball. Add a TiVo to the mix to skip past all the downtime and you’ve got some good action. Seeing guys get tossed like ragdolls and exciting plays like interceptions, as well as freaks of nature like Shaun Alexander, who makes the rest of the field look like it’s in slow-motion, is good entertainment. Yes, entertainment.
So first up was the Seattle Seahawks playing the favored Chicago Bears. They battle it out for a while, the Bears benefiting from Seattle’s quarterback Hasselbeck making a few big mistakes, and the game is tied going into overtime. I really didn’t care who won, I don’t follow either team and it’s two of my favorite cities, but it was an immediate letdown. Why? Because overtime in football is probably the thirdmost anti-climactic thing in professional sports. (The second is also in football, where they run down the clock, and the first is pretty much anything that happens in soccer).
Football is a game modeled on the same principles as warfare of the 18th century. Everyone lines up, everyone has a job, and you go at it. The two sides are rarely evenly matched, but there’s the sense that if everyone does their job and the plan is sound, you have a chance. Overtime takes that and flips it on its head, because it’s sudden death. Whoever scores first, wins. The really disappointing part is that it usually ends on a field goal, and the team that gets the ball first is decided by a coin toss. The Seahawks won the toss, but didn’t score. The Bears moved the ball a bit, and kicked the winning field goal.
Football is no stranger to rule changes, so I’d like to see two more. First, both teams are guaranteed at least one possession. If there’s a turnover, at least the other team had a chance. Second, and much more importantly, no field goals. Sorry kickers, I’d rather see the whole team have to win, not just you.
After that game, the Patriots played the favored Chargers. Both teams played a sloppy, but enjoyable game. The Patriots came back in the 4th quarter to tie it, and took the lead on a field goal. The Chargers got the ball, made a field goal attempt, and missed it, game over. The big story of the game, however, is that the Patriots overcelebrated their victory, “showing up” the Chargers on their own turf. So now the darlings of the NFL media, the reigning dynasty in the league, were made to look like a bunch of hooligans with “no respect for the game”.
There seemed to be two major offenses. The first was that they were jumping on the Chargers logo in midfield. The solution to this is a simple one. If you or your fans are too sensitive about your corporate logo being tarnished, don’t paint it on the field. The second was that the Patriots appropriated the taunting dance of the Charger’s defensive superstar Shawne Merriman. Never mind that Merriman did it after every sack, or that Merriman had shown his personal respect for the game by failing a drug test. The league MVP Tomlinson was so incensed he charged at the group and had to be restrained, and kept his anger boiling through the post-game press conference.
To borrow Rob Corddry’s attempted catch-phrase, “coooome ooon!” Sports are first and foremost entertainment. Fans pay hundreds of dollars to watch guys play a game most of us gave up in adolescence, after which they retire to their mansions and spend the rest of the life getting updates on the charitable tax deductions their assistants run for them. I’d argue they deserve the money they get, not because they are psuedo-heroes or guardians of contrived traditions, but as entertainers. I want to see the winners be happy and the losers be sad. I want to see grown men doing silly dances because they carried a warped ball over a line of paint. The next day, I want to read about the ridiculous comments from a guy who had to cheat to get a 700 on his SAT.
If the Yankees beat the Red Sox and a pinstriped marching band ran out onto the Fenway infield and Derek Jeter stuck the game winning ball in his pants while A-Rod did the funky chicken on homeplate, I’d be laughing out loud. When they silently tap gloves and retreat to the locker room, I feel deprived not only of my team’s victory, but the sense that it actually meant something to the team who took it from them.
So let’s forget about respecting the hallowed traditions of a child’s game played by rich men of often questionable character, managed by billionaires who hold lifetime fans hostage and demand taxes to pay for expensive stadiums with horrible parking. I just want to see people show up, play as hard as possible, and put on a good show. If you win or lose, show me that you’re playing this game for something more than the huge paychecks, and that you’re as excited or disappointed as the crazy fat guys that painted themselves blue to try and give you an edge in the contest.