There’s a lot not to like about football.
Like nearly any professional sport, football encourages starry-eyed kids to set aside other interests and talents, useful interests and talents, to focus on some microscopic chance at an opportunity to (maybe) make a stupid amount of money.
It feeds on some manufactured sense of team spirit to siphon money out of communities while burdening them with the financial costs and the responsibility of upkeep.
But even as a spectator, it is terrible. Sitting through the typical few minutes of football can mean enduring a maddening carousel of teasers. It goes something like this: commercial break, followed by a few seconds of referees deliberating, commercial break, maybe some footage of a coach pacing and angrily chewing gum, commercial break, animated NFL logo, commercial break, THEN ten or twenty seconds of actual sport, followed by a slo mo recap, then right back to commercial. Football fans like to joke about the glacial pace of “football time.” But seriously… a “one hour” game literally takes three. Think about that math for a second—however dedicated to the sport someone purports to be, their actions would suggest that they’re literally twice as dedicated to car and fast food advertising.
This might sound like hyperbole to the uninitiated, but this is actually a thing. If there aren’t enough timeouts and stoppages of play happening in conjunction with the game, there are actual sponsor-mandated “media timeouts” just to pack in a sufficient number of commercials.
Football distilled: fantasy football
From the fantasy perspective it’s sometimes no better. Having a customized list of players and stats can add a special kind of smug. Imagine the “armchair quarterback” mentality that can blithely dismiss a lifetime of athleticism based on one bad play, and add the entitlement that can allow someone to be upset at a player who had the audacity to sustain a career ending injury and cost a handful of imaginary points. Yikes.
How is it, with all of this, I am still drawn back to football? On a very basic level, there’s quite a lot of numbers and statistics that go into building a great team. As luck would have it I really enjoy tracking down and poring over meaningless numbers and statistics. Once my team is built, I’ve got a little stake in virtually every game played. Also I work with a pretty amazing group of people. The opportunity to spend a little time together outside the office is quite a thing, even at a sports bar. Especially at a sports bar since I’m known to put away a little greasy food from time to time. So, spending that time with my coworkers AND a plate of cheesy eggs ‘n’ hashbrowns is just that much better.
Football, I can't quit you
All these things, in spite of myself, bring me back to football, where I’ve discovered something truly magical. That’s right, I just said ‘magical.’ I’m there with my friends and coworkers and the game (and yes, the commercials) is in full swing. There’s a cold beer and my delicious breakfast arrives. Maybe even my favorite team (read: the most strategically advantageous team) is winning and I can’t help but feel swept up in some weird madness, some weird sense of, dare I even say it? Brotherhood.
Even if I still suspect football is a meaningless suck on our time and resources, I’m delighted to have built this bond, even (especially?) through something so unlikely. Maybe it’s old age or the overwhelming notion we’ve never been more disconnected from one another, more polarized. But a connection is a connection, and that is a beautiful thing—it’s not overstating, in that temporary leave of our senses, we glimpse something larger than ourselves. The connections we make extend beyond our better judgement, beyond rationality to that place where we’re still allowed to be fun and human with each other, to be vulnerable and relish, however temporarily, the connections we find there.
You can feel the love in this room