Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Examining my NFL Ennui
Sunday afternoon, with the Falcons playing on Monday night and the TV therefore full of good NFL viewing options, I assembled a desk, chair, and computer while listening to the Thrashers game. Sunday evening, the wife and I went to a holiday party (waiting for the wrath of Bill O'Reilly in 5, 4, 3...) where the Chiefs-Cowboys game was on a giant HD screen and yet, I didn't watch any of the game, instead opting to chatter about a co-worker's revelations about her partner and his equipment. Last night, with the Falcons playing an important Monday night game, I watched about one quarter of the game, instead deciding to watch an Ali G DVD (I'm about two years behind in incorporating "Respek!" and "Booyahkahsha!" into my lexicon) and then go to sleep with the Birds leading by four in the third quarter. You would think that this would be an ideal time to be a Falcons fan, with the franchise poised for its first back-to-back winning seasons ever and Mr. Excitement closing in on a second straight season without a major injury. And yet, I can't really muster up the desire to watch a game from start to finish. Is there something wrong with me? Did my Sunday afternoon with Lifetime (scroll to the bottom) function as chemical castration? I'm looking for answers:
1. The combination of a demanding job and a wife have forced me to prioritize my sports viewing options. This seems like the most obvious explanation. Since I've been zealously guarding my fall Saturdays as a holy day, and probably drag Andrea to about 25 Braves, Hawks, and Thrashers games over the course of a year, some things simply have to be trimmed and my NFL watching was the most obvious candidate for cutting. I can roll my chores (like "assemble this desk and don't worry if the instructions are in Portuguese") into Sundays.
2. Falcons tickets are hard to get and I don't get that excited about a team that I can't watch in person. Tickets to the cities' other teams are easy (Hawks tickets are easy like Morganna's boobs were big) and so I go watch them, but the Falcons are a tough ticket. That said, I've always found the experience of Falcons games, even when the game is good, to be underwhelming. The idea of tailgating in a giant gulch underneath an overpass never struck me as the Platonic ideal of pre-game festivities. Plus, I found over the years that I got sleepy at Falcons games, most likely because the NFL has destroyed any flow from its games by the constant commercial breaks. (One of my aspirations is to do a study of how many plays are run in the average college football game as opposed to the average NFL game. I'm convinced that the NFL crams more commercials into the time slots for its games by having the clock run [by rule] almost constantly, but the braying American public hasn't noticed, probably because they're too busy marveling over the mystery of their own navels.) This is also a reason why I wasn't interested in watching a game on Sunday. Inevitably, the endless commercials drive me away until I get sucked in by one of the Die Hard movies on FX for the 7,000th time. (I am SUCH a sucker for a German villain.) The other deterrent from going to a Falcons game is that I feel like I'm being manipulated from start to finish. Cheer now! Order a Coors Light now! Look at the kid baby on the scoreboard now! Yell "Defense!" now! It all seems like such manufactured excitement. Everything about the NFL is plastic, right down to the cheerleaders' chests. Hell, I'll just make this a separate heading...
3. I don't really love this Falcons team, despite the fact that they're hyped to the nines in the local market. I still feel conflicted about Michael Vick because he's a good player, but not a superstar and the Falcons are paying him to be the latter. His enormous cap number is going to make it hard to assemble a championship team around him. Also, his standoffishness this year, specifically the "don't criticize me if we're winning," is less than endearing. DeAngelo Hall has also developed an attitude, pining for a Pro Bowl trip while missing tackles on a regular basis. (That said, he is clearly the team's best DB, but that's more of an indictment of the rest of the secondary.) Generally, the defense is very young, which means that they're athletic, but they don't know how to tackle and they're often moving very fast in the wrong direction. This team is not a threat to go to the Super Bowl, so really, the only major goal for the season is to finish with a winning record. (Is a wild card and out season really that different from 9-7 and no playoffs?)
4. There are too many things about the NFL that irk me, such as:
a. The announcing teams. Is there a single announcing team that isn't some degree of annoying? The fact that the second-most prominent NFL broadcast - the Sunday night game - is manned by a crew that's more universally panned than Battlefield Earth says all that needs to be said about the NFL. Is there room for one Ron Franklin in the NFL, an understated guy who provides the information a play-by-play guy is supposed to offer and does so with a modicum of class? Would Pat Summerall be hired today or would a studio exec be too busy trying to find the next Kevin Harlan to hyperventilate every time a three-yard pass is completed?
b. The erosion of free broadcasts as a viable option, combined with DirectTV's monopoly on Sunday Ticket. What other sport does so much to screw its TV watching fans through arcane rules that deprive them of good match-ups on free TV (Why can't I watch another game when the Falcons are at home and the game is a sell-out? Why is Jacksonville considered Atlanta's "home" AFC team?) and then refuse to let cable systems sell the Sunday Ticket package? I'm not going to friggin' get DirectTV because Paul Tagliabue says I need to. And is this related to the fact that halftime shows show so few highlights these days?
c. I know that punditry for most sports is filled with banal statements these days, but the NFL seems to be a refugee camp for idiots. How does Michael Irvin have a prominent role as an analyst? And who likes Sean Salisbury propounding yet again with gusto about how the quarterback has to be the leader of the team? And if Peter King is the dean of NFL journalists, then why does he manage to piss me off every week with some new OUTRAGE!!!
d. The fact that the League holds every market hostage for a new stadium and has kept a team out of the second largest market in America for years as leverage. I perceive the NFL as a Republican sport and it's a perfect metaphor for Bush conservatism, in that it holds itself up to be the representation of American values, but a good chunk of its profits come from the government teat. (In a cynical way, maybe that is a good representation of American values.)
e. The uniforms. I had no idea that Any Given Sunday was going to be so precient. The Falcons' old uniforms were sharp; their new ones look like the result of a kindergarteners' finger-painting. Gaudi would love them (although he wouldn't approve of the colors.)
5. I'll freely admit that I'm something of a contrarian on the NFL, as it has never been more popular. In fact, that might be why I'm rebelling against it. I feel like it's being forced down my throat in a dozen different ways and, whereas I was always happy to be a college football fan first and an NFL fan second, I now feel like I'm a college football fan as opposed to being an NFL fan because they represent two different ideals, a game marked by tradition and played by young men who give a damn as opposed to a game marked by ruthless profit-making and played by guys who are as loyal as the whisperings in their ears by Drew Rosenhaus.
All this being said, I'll probably pay attention once the playoffs start, just like I do with every sport other than the one where the playoffs start in week one.