My earth-shattering mini-series on sports continues with the granddaddy of them all. Originally, I was going to save this one to the end as a climax to the entire saga. After experiencing the highs and lows, the twists and turns, you could be a part of the extremely satisfying conclusion. However, since football is the only sport being played right now (just sit down you eight basketball and three hockey fans) and since it is hitting the most exciting time of year, the time felt right.
Football is my absolute favorite sport - both college and pro. It is the only one that I regularly watch games during the regular season. It is the only one that I play in a fantasy league for. And it is the only that I can talk about in any sort of intelligent fashion. It was the first sport I remember watching on a regular basis. It was the only one that my father really loved, and we used to sit on the couch together watching games. Aside from when my brother destroyed his ankle trying out for football, I can't think of too many bad memories associated with football. Why is this sport so amazing and awesome? In the Christmas spirit, let me construct a list.
1. Football has real "heroes" and "villains." Yes other sports have them, but not on the same grand scale as football. In baseball, everyone hates the Yankees and A-Rod (out of jealousy us Yankee fans reply). In basketball, well I think almost EVERYONE is a villain in basketball. What other sport would knock a potential draft pick down a few notches because he wasn't mean enough (Marvin Williams) yet give dozens of certified wackjobs maximum contracts? In football, every fan has his heroes and villains. You know you are going to always "hate" certain teams and players and "love" others. For example, NFL fans are split into two camps on Brett Favre - some hate him (me) and others love him. Why do I hate him? Because he caused my Bucs so much pain over the years. Also, there are those people who adore Peyton Manning and those who loathe him (me). Why do I loathe him? Because he is an overhyped number hunter who has never done a single thing to make his TEAM better, which is why he has never won a title and I hope never will. He is this generation's Dan Marino, who yes, was a villain to me also.
There are some teams that I detest and always will. I will never root for the Raiders, Redskins, 49ers, Packers, Giants, Dolphins, or Broncos -- or Notre Dame, U of Miami, U of Florida, USC, Texas, or Ohio State. If two of those teams play each other, I switch the channel or root for the refs. Or I root against whichever team has the most to lose with a loss. I have developed a recent hatred for the Falcons (because of the villain Mike "Ron Mexico" Vick), and have downgraded my hatred for the Steelers (because they just play football the right way). If I hate a team, not only do I root against them, I laugh when they stink. Like the 49ers right now? HA HA! Why do I laugh, because I know that like any good movie villain, they will rise again. I love the Bucs and the Jags -- and UCF, USF, and U of Georgia. I am fond of the Cowboys, Chiefs, Chargers, and Vikings - mostly for the players or because of a long history.
And there are individual villains too. Favre, the Manning brothers, Ray "Not My Knife" Lewis, Randy "Not My Play" Moss, Ricky "Not My Bong" Williams. And then there are my heroes - not real heroes I want to pattern my life after, but ones I cheer for. Priest Holmes, Antonio Gates, Daunte Culpepper, Hines Ward, Tom Brady, Doug Flutie, Byron Leftwich, Big Ben Rothlisbergerstroganoff. I think football has the biggest line between good guys and bad. It varies for every person, but it is strong - sometimes passed on for generations. (My dad hated the Packers too).
2. The Regular Season Matters - Unlike basketball and hockey, the regular season in football matters. You can't mess around for 2/3 of the year and then put on the jets and get into the playoffs as a five seed and still make it to the finals. If you mess around in football, you stay home in January. Take the Chargers this year, they had a slow start, and even though they may be one of the best teams in football NOW, they will probably miss the playoffs. The same thing with Auburn - two stupid early season losses and they miss out on a 12 million dollar payday. You can't just crank it up in November. You have to be consistent. The year the Bucs won the Super Bowl, they went 12-4. If you broke the season up into quarters, they went 3-1 in each quarter. That's consistent.
3. EVERY Game Matters - Not only does the regular season matter, but you have to be ready for every game. In every other sport, you can take a game off here or there and still survive. In football, you take a game off, you miss the playoffs or get a lousy seed and end up having to travel up to Foxboro in January in a driving snowstorm and you get mauled.
4. Every Play Matters - A game can turn on one play. Somebody throws a dumb pass at the end of the game and it gets picked off and returned for a touchdown and your team loses by two points and you get ripped by talk radio hosts the world over for a week. Or, and offensive lineman takes a play off and the next thing you know, your quarterback is looking for his right arm and left ankle and your team is out of contention.
5. It is Violent - In baseball, you get ejected for hitting someone. In basketball, you get a beer thrown at you and then you get suspended. In hockey, everyone gets into square dance position and watches until you fall down and then they break it up. In football, you get a sticker on the back of your helmet and you get put on the highlight reel. True, this is not the most noble reason, but hey, just being honest.
6. It is Better Managed - From the salary cap that actually is a real cap to the rules that are actually enforced, football is the best run sport. It hasn't had a work stoppage in almost twenty years (keep your fingers crossed). It has an efficient system of appeals and rules. It even has instant replay. And college football is no different. It is an amazing spectacle. Could you imagine a basketball or baseball game with 100,000 fans at it? Yet that happens at a half-dozen college stadiums every week.
7. Better Rivalries - This goes back to point one. (like that? circular. oooo) In baseball, you have the Red Sox/Yankees. In hockey, well I have no clue. In basketball, you had a few rivalries, but they are pretty much dead. In football, you have the truly great rivalries. It is more than just heroes/villains. It is armies massed against each other, each wearing their tribe's colors. Think about them. When they play (once, maybe twice a year) it is a complete explosion. It is an event. People prepare for it and wait for it. And even if both teams suck eggs, the game still matters. And if one team stinks, their whole season is made by beating the other - especially if it costs them a trip to the playoffs or a bowl.
Michigan/Ohio State. Florida/Florida State. Notre Dame/USC. Georgia/Florida. Texas/Oklahoma. Cowboys/Redskins. Bears/Packers. Raiders/Chiefs. Auburn/Alabama. Colts/Patriots. Florida State/Miami.
Just thinking about those games gets your heart racing. The thing about Yankees/RedSox is that they play 19 times a year in the REGULAR SEASON. The Bulls and Pistons play six times. In football, especially college football, you play once. You pour everything into that game and if you lose, it eats at you for an entire year until you get a chance to rectify the situation. And even if you go 10-0 and lose to your rival, a fan of that rival can still get your blood boiling by pointing out the one loss. It seems like so much rides on games in football. And that is why it is so great. There is so much at stake. That is why I can't wait until August and get sad come February. But for six months, things are great.
This winter has the potential to be the best footbally postseason ever for me. Every single team I root for is already in the playoffs, or still in contention. The UCF Knights play December 24. USF and Georgia both have bowl games. The Jaguars and Bucs are about to get invites to the playoffs. Even the Vikings, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Chargers are still sniffing around the playoffs. So, if you are looking for me between now and February 5, chances are I'll be on the couch watching football -- and rooting against Peyton Manning.
Look for upcoming Why I . . . Sports articles coming up in honor of the Winter Olympics, Hockey, and Soccer.