I've been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I'd catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league's nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.
It's overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won't be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can't see each other anymore. And it's definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.
So how did I do? I ended up watching four games this season: a random Sunday night game in week 15 or 16, the Pats/Ravens playoff, the Pats/Colts playoff, and the Super Bowl. I've been watching and rooting for the Patriots for the past, what, 14 or 15 years now. And more to the point, I've been following the Brady/Belichick storyline for almost that long and once it became clear the Pats had a great shot at winning it all, not watching the final acts was just not going to happen, NFL bullshit or not. It would be like putting down one of the best 1200-page books you've ever read with two chapters to go and just saying, yeah, I'm not going to read the end of that. And that game last night...I felt *incredible* when Butler intercepted that pass. Life is full of many greater, more fulfilling, and more genuine moments, but there's no feeling quite like the one when you realize your team has won, especially when that victory has been snatched, semi-literally, from the jaws of near-certain defeat.
But that's ultimately weak sauce. I don't feel justified about watching just because I really enjoyed it. I made a commitment to myself and didn't honor it. I believe the NFL is still a terrible organization and isn't worth supporting with my attention. For whatever it's worth, I'm going back to not watching next year, and I hope I fare better.
Update: Bill Simmons, in an epic recap of the final 12 minutes of the Super Bowl, echoes what I was getting at above.
When you've been rooting for the same people for 15 years, at some point the stakes become greater. You want that last exclamation-point title. (Just ask Spurs fans.) You want to feel like you rooted for a dynasty, or something close to it, instead of just "a team that won a couple of times." You want to say that you rooted for the best coach ever and the best quarterback ever, and you want to be constantly amazed that they showed up to save your sad-sack franchise at the exact same time.
Every year, a bunch of folks play a game called Last Man, in which the participants attempt to be the last person to find out the result of the Super Bowl. TLDR did an entertaining podcast on this year's contestants.
Most of the runners, however, found themselves waking up each day in a cold sweat. "I feel like I'm being sequestered for the stupidest jury trial in modern history," one competitor said. "It's gotten to the point where three things may end me: recklessness, homesickness, or sheer boredom."
If you don't know anything about football and yet are interested in (or being coerced into) watching the big game this weekend, here are some players' stories that might make it more interesting for you.
Whether actively experiencing the spectacle or not, there are a few reasons to like the Super Bowl in 2013, besides the fact that the Baltimore Ravens are the first major professional sports franchise, so far, to be named after a 19th century poem. For starters, in a sports year that's already brought us doping cyclists and fake dead girlfriends, the teams in this year's contest are welcome standouts. The San Francisco 49ers were the first NFL team to join the "It Gets Better" campaign, and their opponent, the Ravens, has a team captain who is the most outspoken advocate of LGBT rights in the NFL, and whose presence has evolved the once overtly homophobic locker-room culture of his entire team.
I loved this line in reference to Colin Kapernick's replacement of Alex Smith as the 49ers' starting QB:
The deliberate, steady bus was replaced by a flaming Apache helicopter flown by a nude Vladimir Putin.
For instance, there's Mark Herzlich, a former top NFL prospect who was diagnosed with bone cancer while in college, took a year off to beat the disease, returned to the game, and then went undrafted by every NFL team. As a last-ditch, he auditioned for training camp. By November, about two years after undergoing chemotherapy, Mark was a starting linebacker for the Giants.
There's five-foot-seven Danny Woodhead of the Patriots, a player considered too small even for Division I college football, who went to the only place that wanted him, a little school in Nebraska called Chadron State, where he worked his ass off, and by the time he graduated, he was college football's all-time leading rusher. He's still so anonymous that he worked at a sporting goods store on a day off last year and pretty much no one recognized him. Now he's a running back for a team in the goddamned Super Bowl.
Growing up in abject poverty in Houston, Texas, Donald, his mother, and brother lived, at various times, in a U-Haul, out of a car, and on the streets. As a young teen, Donald used his intelligence, natural dexterity and quick hands to become an extremely effective car thief. He sold the cars to buy drugs, which he then turned around and sold for more money. He believes he stole up to thirty cars, and was only caught once.
The Milwaukee Art Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art have agreed to a Super Bowl bet! Even better: The museums have put major works by major artists on the line. The bet continues an annual tradition begun last year when MAN instigated a wager between the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Both museums are offering up significant impressionist paintings: The Carnegie Museum of Art has wagered Pierre Renoir's playful, fleshy Bathers with a Crab (cicra 1890-99, above) on a Pittsburgh Steelers victory. The Milwaukee Art Museum has put on the line Gustave Caillebotte's serene Boating on the Yerres (1877, below).
The Indianapolis Museum of Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art have a Super Bowl bet...the loser loans a significant piece of art to the winner for three months. The directors of the two museums trash talked back and forth via email and Twitter before agreeing on the paintings to be loaned.
"Max Anderson must not really believe the Colts can beat the Saints in the Super Bowl. Otherwise why would he bet such an insignificant work as the Ingrid Calame painting? Let's up the ante. The New Orleans Museum of Art will bet the three-month loan of its Renoir painting, Seamstress at Window, circa 1908, which is currently in the big Renoir exhibition in Paris. What will Max wager of equal importance? Go Saints!"
But if they lose -- especially if they lose late -- the New England Patriots will be the most memorable collection of individuals in the history of pro football. They will prove that nothing in this world is guaranteed, that past returns do not guarantee future results, that failure is what ultimately defines us and that Gisele will probably date a bunch of other dudes in her life, because man is eternally fallible.
He carried with him a little book in which he kept track, day by day, of whether he had lived according to thirteen virtues, including Silence, which he hoped to cultivate "to break a Habit I was getting into of Prattling, Punning and Joking." What made Franklin great was how nobly he strived for perfection; what makes him almost impossibly interesting is how far short he fell of it.
It's also worth noting that, per Aristotle and Shakespeare, the hero in a tragedy always has a fatal flaw; it's what makes him a hero and the story worth listening to.