My Super Bowl Thoughts

I started watching football all the way back in 1979, when I was 8 years old, and stuck in a  wheelchair for six weeks while recovering from fairly major foot surgery on both feet. I didn’t have a ‘team’ back in those early days. We watched a lot of the Dallas Cowboys (with Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones, and Randy White and Tony Dorsett) and Los Angeles Rams (with Jack Youngblood and Vince Ferragamo) and San Diego Chargers (with Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, Kellen Winslow, Chuck Muncie and Don ‘Air’ Coryell). We watched whatever was on our TV that Sunday.

It wasn’t until the epic playoff game between the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers on January 2, 1982 that I knew I had a ‘team’. The Chargers, with their high flying, fun-to-watch offense, and never-say-die attitude, became my team. I stuck with them for years, even though their success seemed to peak on that glorious Saturday evening in Miami. But even more than a fan of the Chargers, I became a football fan. I loved the game. I loved the strategy. I loved to watch it. I loved to play it, even though I was way too small and too slow and too timid to ever play organized tackle football. I’d spend hours on my front lawn, punting the football as high as I could into the air, catching it myself, and then returning the punt back up the lawn against imaginary defenders, juking and cutting, and leaving them in the dust.

Sometime in high school, I think around 1987, I started watching the Detroit Lions. Pontiac, Michigan was only 75 miles from my house, and because the Lions’ games were on the TV more than just about anyone else, I started tracking their progress. I even sent them plays I designed to see if I couldn’t help them win. I still have a team picture, signed by Coach Wayne Fontes as a thank you for my ‘help’.  I can say, without hesitation, that I was a Lions fan well before they every drafted Barry Sanders. But life as a Lions fan did get better once he arrived—at least for a little while.

Back in 1996 I was introduced to the world of fantasy football. I played it for three years in Colorado, then for another four years after I moved to Washington. I won my league once. It’s the only trophy I’ve ever won in anything. I also played in a pick’em pool and did pretty well in that as well.

For one season, back in 1999, I bought season tickets for the Seattle Seahawks when they were still at the Kingdome. The seats were ten rows from the top of the third deck. It was loud and it was crazy. But the Lions were coming to town on opening weekend, and I just had to see Barry Sanders run in real life at least once. Barry retired 3 days after I got my tickets in the mail, so I never saw him on the field, live. Still, that was the game I took my dad to, and was his first-ever pro-football game. The Lions won. I also managed to see the Seahawks play the Raiders on a Monday night that year. The third deck was crazy for that game.

In the years while I was dating my wife-to-be, and in the early years of the marriage, NFL Draft weekend became ‘my special weekend’—like Christmas in April. The year the kids were born, we dressed them up in Lions gear the Saturday of the draft. I was all-in on the NFL. I even had the NFL Sunday Ticket so I could watch my beloved Lions lose, week after week.

Five years ago, my fantasy league fell apart due to a horrible commissioner. I cancelled my DirecTV halfway through the season the Lions went 0-16. I just couldn’t ruin my Sunday afternoons anymore. My wife and I still played the pick’em pool, and we both often placed in the top 10 of about 60 players. But slowly, my interest began to wane.

This year, neither of us wanted to play in the pick’em pool. The amount of football we watch has dropped dramatically. Had I not been on the couch so much due to my GBS, I would have rarely had the TV on on Sundays. The NFL has slowly lost its appeal for me. Last weekend, in a conversation with a friend, he asked who I was rooting for in the Super Bowl, and I had to ask who was playing. That’s a long way from being NFL-obsessed.

So what happened? Was it that I live a much busier life these days? Not this year. I’ve watched a lot of TV, but not much of it was football. Was it because of the huge contracts the players earn and the billions the owners rake in? It’s bothered me before, but it didn’t stop me from watching. I mean, I didn’t go to games as often as some people I know, and I didn’t buy a lot of NFL merchandise, so watching the NFL didn’t cost me a lot of money (except for the stadiums we all pay for through our taxes).

No, I think something in me has changed since I’ve had kids. I’ve come to recognize that it’s what society sees as entertainment that shows where its moral compass is pointed. Football has always been violent, no doubt. Players are dressed up like gladiators, and the hits are glorified by the networks and by the league. Only very recently has the league started to curtail this glorification, and the pushback by football fans, and by the players themselves, has been tremendous. They see it as neutering the game—removing the violence they love. This violence is critical to the definition of who they are. In their view, this violence is needed by men to keep their manhood and needed by boys in order to become men. And even the violence of football isn’t enough. Things like Ultimate Fighting have raised it to a whole, new, shocking level. It’s this yearning for more violence, not less, that’s turned me off.

Yes, pro football players are well paid for the risks they take, and they are adults, and should be able to choose what they do for a living. But the vast majority of football players are kids and college players, who never see a dime for the risks they take. The NCAA makes a butt-load of money off the backs, and the knees and the shoulders and the skulls of the amateur player. Sure, many players get scholarships, but not all, and the injury gods don’t save the catastrophes for those on a full ride.

Proponents of football say it teaches teamwork, sacrifice, unity and self-confidence. I say kids can practice teamwork on science projects, can sacrifice by volunteering for whatever cause they see as important, can show unity by helping their fellow man, and gain self-confidence by working on an artistic skill. Human-kind has enough problems that need solving that we don’t need to create more by finding entertainment in doing violence to each other.

My wife and I have had long talks about this, and it’s highly unlikely we’ll let our son (or daughter) play organized tackle football. Its my job as a parent to protect them as best I can, for as long as I can, and enrolling them into something that showcases violence isn’t something I’m comfortable with.

I realize that there is a certain amount of irony in the fact that while I am condemning football, I write stories that, in some cases, glorify violence. On that front, all I can say, right now, is that fictional violence and real violence are two totally different things. Only when fictional violence encourages real violence do the two equate, and my writing doesn’t (I hope) do that.

So, after this very long, somewhat rambling note, will I be watching the Super Bowl? Probably not. I just don’t appreciate the sport of it enough now to overcome my doubts about what it is doing to society.

But do I have a prediction? Well…um… who’s playing again?



Ravens: 26 – 49ers: 24.

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