Like most of America, I watched the NFL playoff games this past weekend, and it got me thinking about my relationship to football, the NFL, sports on TV, and sports in general.
Let me start at the beginning. I grew up on Long Island in New York in the 50s and 60s. Sports are a religion in the New York area, the various sects worshipping at the altars of the Yankees, the Rangers, the Knickerbockers, etc.
My father loved the New York football Giants above all other teams, and I was right with him. We were not the only people who loved the football Giants: if you haven’t, check out the classic novel A FAN’S NOTES by Frederick Exley. (Note that I have to say “football Giants” because the New York baseball Giants, the Willie Mays team, was still playing in the Polo Grounds until 1958 after which they moved to San Francisco, a year after the Dodgers had left Brooklyn for Los Angeles.)
Every Sunday throughout all my childhood years of cold Eastern winters, my father, my brother, and I would watch Giants football. Even now, the names of those players evoke an era of innocence, optimism, and confidence: Frank Gifford, Y.A. Title, Kyle Rote, Charley Connerly, Alex Webster, Sam Huff, the Roosevelts Grier and Brown, Del Shofner, Jim Katcavage, Erich Barnes, etc., etc. It was one of those teams with a star at every position.
Even though my father usually bought gas for his Chrysler at the close-by Esso station (this was before Esso became Exxon), he went out of his way to go to a Shell station just so that we could collect all the prints of the Robert Riger drawings of the Giants’ stars that Shell was offering as a come-on. We hung all the prints proudly on the walls of the staircase on the way down to our finished basement. They hung there for years, until they turned yellow.
But that was a long time ago. Now I live in southern California where the winters are actually nicer than the summers. There is no need to stay inside on a Sunday afternoon in December or January. In fact, it’s downright foolish to waste a gorgeous southern California day, watching football on TV. We don’t even have an NFL team in LA!!! And nobody – outside of a few billionaires and the politicians who want their money – really wants one.
If you live in southern California and happen to like football, there are always USC and UCLA. They are practically professional teams. When I moved out here, I was surprised and amused by how seriously people take the USC-UCLA rivalry, how people self-identify as “Trojans” or “Bruins.” (Not all people: my son and daughter-in-law went to UCLA, and I don’t think either of them knew or cared where Pauley Pavilion was.)
Today, NFL football is the biggest attraction in American sports – and perhaps all entertainment – and I’m kind of on the outside. I didn’t watch any NFL games during the regular season. I don’t play fantasy football; I have other ways to waste my time. I won’t watch these playoff games live. (But to be truthful, I hardly watch anything live these days; I live to Tivo.) I used to know all the NFL football players’ names, and now I only know the stars, and not even all of them.
I replay the Tivoed games, fast-forwarding from snap-to-snap. At first, it drove the Tiny Goddess crazy, but she is patient with me and got used to it. Now, we can watch a three-and-a-half hour football telecast in about an hour and a half. I don’t cut it ridiculously close; I’m not a complete maniac. I just take out the commercials, the half-time show, the endless delays while contested calls are reviewed by the officials, and the fat guys standing around, huffing and puffing.
In fact, here is a link to a famous Wall Street Journal article, showing how – statistically – there are eleven minutes of actual action in an NFL game. The other components include an hour of commercials, seventeen minutes of replays, and sixty-seven minutes of “guys standing around.”
But I’ll watch the playoffs. A couple of the games this past weekend were really good. They reminded me of why I like football: the “chess match” on every play as offense and defense try to outthink each other, the possibility of the Big Play at any moment, the sheer wonder of the some of the athleticism, the drama of the game, momentum changes from turnovers, etc. I was sorry that Peyton Manning had a bad game, but he seems to have some trouble in big games. I’m not a big fan of Bill Beli-cheat, but you had to admire the way the Patriots came back twice from two-touchdown deficits. I think that Seattle might have had the best team of all. We’ll see next week.
Sure, I’ll watch the playoffs, but I’ll never love football the way I did when I was a kid, watching “the Jints” with my father and my brother.
Now every good tackle is another player’s concussion. But that’s another blog entirely.
And besides, it’s a beautiful day outside. I think I’ll go out and shoot some baskets in my backyard. Get some oxygen into my blood. When it gets down to it, I really don’t have to watch sports on TV at all. I have work to do.