Sunday, February 1, 2015

Freeing up a Sunday night

The last football game I attended with my father was a little over 20 years ago on the day after Thanksgiving. The home state Hogs were playing the Tigers of my alma mater in my home town. Dad had two extra tickets, and my brother and I jumped at the chance to see a game with the old man, even though both teams were terrible that year, and the game was essentially meaningless.

The temperature was in the mid-30s with a cold drizzle at game time, and it was raining hard by the end of the first quarter. The game was not going well for the home team, and the situation was plainly not going to improve in the second half. Soaked, freezing, and miserable, my brother and I decided that a hot shower and a cold drink were called for, so at half time we told Dad we were leaving. "All right, then," he growled from under his poncho, showing no inclination to join us. He didn't call us pussies out loud, but it was clearly implied. He stayed until the bitter (30-7) end, and never mentioned the game to us again.

This is a long way of saying that football is important in my family. We all played growing up. My parents had season tickets most years. When other girls were hanging David Cassidy posters, my sister kept an autographed picture of Joe Ferguson on her bedroom wall. I think Archie Manning was on my mother's list. She still watches football every Fall weekend between naps, and both of my brothers are active on the sports blogs.

The trouble started when they moved the game indoors. Image from here.

So it's not a trivial thing for me to skip the Super Bowl. I have watched them all* since Super Bowl -1 (the 1965 NFL Championship game). I saw a few epic games, and more than a few I could have done without. I watched the Packers, Colts, Cowboys, Dolphins, Cowboys again, Steelers, 49ers, da Bears, Broncos, and the rest put it all together and grab the big prize. I suffered with the Bills through four straight Super Bowl losses. I even lived long enough to see my Saints make it to the big dance and win.

I have been falling out of love with big time football for a while now, but I seem to have passed my personal tipping point. It's not just the concussions and other health problems. A lot of people work jobs that are every bit as dangerous for way less than $10 million a year, though when Ditka says the game is not worth the risk, that gets my attention. It's not even the animal abuse, domestic violence, and murders. They select these people for aggressiveness and violent tendencies, then pump them full of drugs and give them more money at one time than most of us would earn in three lifetimes. Am I the only one who is not surprised when some of them don't act like model citizens?

No, the camelback straw for me was watching the Patriots clearly think it was funny that someone caught them cheating. Worse, I found myself laughing along with them.** It seems to have finally dawned on me that the NFL owners not only don't care about the players or the fans, they don't have any respect for the game. Through scandal after embarrassment, the league shoots a big finger at the fans, lights another cigar with a billion dollar bill, and watch the money-machine keep cranking.

I am not trying to start a movement or anything. I expect everyone I know to watch the game, and I wouldn't expect them to choose differently. I know that neither the sponsors nor the league will notice me gone. My personal choices are the only way I have to shape my world, so I am making this one. Who knows, maybe I'll be back next year.

My father loved football for what it taught young men about leadership, teamwork, sportsmanship, and perseverance through pain and heartbreak. He liked how the game brought families together, and gave manly men some way to express emotions. He loved the game itself. I don't think he would like how professional football is being run. He would probably still watch, and while everyone else was standing around eating snacks and discussing commercials, he would be glued to the biggest television in the house, watching every play to the bitter end. But he would definitely grumble about the erosion of respect for his favorite sport.

All right, then.

* I may have missed one or two being on the road or working, but if I did I don't remember, so they must not have been important. I am also a little fuzzy on the particulars of the 1965 NFL Championship game, other than that it was in color.

** I'm not picking on the Patriots especially. I wasn't particularly enamored of Marshawn Lynch's eloquent defense of his personal right to privacy, either. There is not a team in the league with clean hands. New England are just the latest, and their "what's the big deal" attitude is particular galling to me.

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