“Everything that exalts life at the same time increases its absurdity.”
“Even I kinda like football, and I hate football.”
A couple of weeks ago, as the NFL preseason started getting underway with its accompanying Hosannas and Alleluias and Football’s Back!s, John started complaining to me about the sport’s apparent uber-relevance. Indeed, since the end of last football season, Sports Illustrated has devoted seven covers to baseball and six to football — despite the fact that only 16 football games have been played while roughly 2,160 baseball games have been contested.* There were four off-season football covers for SI; baseball had one off-season cover between 2009 and 2010, and that was for Derek Jeter earning Sportsman of the Year. Sigh.
*For the record, those covers are of Brady, the preview issue,** Chris Johnson, Miles Austin, Ben Roethlisberger, and Sam Bradford for football. For baseball, they’re Joey Votto, the Year of the Pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, Dallas Braden, the Yankees’ Core Four, Roy Halladay, and Matt Wieters.***
**It should also be noted that SI’s baseball preview issue is not split into regional covers the way the football issue is. This goes against my eventual point (that football is vastly more prominent on a national scale), which is just another reason why I hate regional covers (that post is forthcoming, btw).
***Matt Wieters? Matt Wieters.
John, as you may have noticed, is a baseball fan first and foremost, and he legitimately wondered why preseason football — again, the games don’t even count! — was getting more pub than pennant races and a seemingly inconceivable three-man chase for the National League Triple Crown.*
*This week, SI finally tells us who Carlos Gonzalez is. You’re a weekly magazine that’s a month late.**
**P.S. Carlos Gonzalez has a chance to win the Triple Crown in a season in which he did not make the All-Star team. The National League All-Star team! Omar Infante made the National League All-Star team! Omar Infante barely made the Atlanta Braves!
There are, of course, many reasons football is more popular than baseball, and they’re not all violent ones. The first and most obvious is that there are fewer games, which means both that each game is more meaningful and that the time investment it takes to be a really good football fun is relatively miniscule. Watching all of your favorite team’s games requires fewer than 50 hours. Throw in an hour reading news on your team for each game, and you’re up to 66 hours per season. To follow baseball with that kind of quality requires, I would guess, at least 360 hours per season, and that’s giving you a quarter of the season off.
The bigger outcome of this, in my mind, is that since our football allegiance asks so little of us and because each game matters so much, we’re much more apt to watch national games of note. It’s a lot more inviting to watch the Giants at 1 and the Cowboys and Redskins that night than it is to watch the Mets at 1, the Braves and Cardinals that night, and then the Mets again the next day at 7. This makes us more knowledgeable on a national scale. I can’t imagine having the nerve to write a weekly post about what’s going on in Major League Baseball, and this is in spite of the fact that I watch far and away more baseball than just about anyone I know. The fact is that a Yankees fan won’t understand the Houston Astros in the way a (New York Football) Giants fan will know the Houston Texans.
This intrinsic advantage is only heightened by the explosion of fantasy football. It isn’t like there aren’t people who play fantasy baseball, but the relationship between fantasy baseball and fantasy football is like that between squares and rectangles. Everyone who plays fantasy baseball also plays fantasy football, but not vice versa. Even so, I don’t know of a single person who will watch a baseball game because of fantasy implications: Nah, I’m staying home tonight. I’ve got Clayton Richard and he’s facing San Francisco.
Now, I despise the idea behind fantasy football. To me, it’s a compensatory hobby designed to manufacture allegiances when you don’t otherwise have one. I don’t care who wins this game, so I will root for Aaron Rodgers to throw a touchdown pass to Donald Driver for Green Bay, and for LeSean McCoy to have a nice performance for the Eagles. This will make me happy. Fantasy football, then, is something I patently don’t need. I love the Giants, and therefore I have a strong rooting interest in almost any game that includes an NFC team. Over time, I have developed a hierarchy of affection in the AFC, and so I have mild rooting interests in its games as well. I cannot think of a single time I have watched an NFL game completely indifferent to its outcome.
And yet I play fantasy football. I have Aaron Rodgers, Donald Driver, and LeSean McCoy on my team. At the same time that I’m rooting for Green Bay to beat Philadelphia (and handily), I find myself saying things like, “But if the Eagles do score here, I would much prefer it be on a LeSean McCoy run.” This isn’t an exercise in my own hypocrisy as much as it is one to display the ubiquity of fantasy’s influence on the typical football fan. Even I, self-proclaimed as one of the good fans above its pulls, have fallen prey to it. Every year, I tell myself that I will retire from fantasy football, and yet, each August, there I am on some idle Sunday pumping myself up for the draft.*
*Exaggeration: I have made a grand total of six picks in a fantasy football draft the last three years. I’m more a coach than a GM.
Throw in NFL Sunday Ticket and the revelation that is the Red Zone channel,* and it’s easy to see that following football is fundamentally different from baseball. There just aren’t enough people with sustainable interests in how multiple baseball games end on a daily, or even weekly, basis for that kind of “Scoring Position Channel.” The very idea is absurd. The way I follow the NFL, in fact, has subtly approached the way I have always followed college football, which is as someone with mild allegiances to programs and greater ones to players I enjoy watching.
*I watched this for the first time on Sunday for the 4:15 games. Even with only three games going on — including TWO NFC West “showdowns” — I felt like Batman in the final action sequence of The Dark Knight, my eyes glazed over by an onrush of images. Perhaps A Clockwork Orange’s Ludovico Treatment is a better example. Either way, as someone I follow tweeted: “I’m not ADD enough to watch the Red Zone channel.”
It is seemingly possible to know literally everything going on in the NFL on a national basis. And that’s why it is the new national pastime.
You know I’d like to jump on the Jets, but let’s be real here: They are what we thought they were. They’re a good defensive team that can bottle up a great back like Ray Rice with serious offensive flaws that will likely prevent them from winning a championship. They are what we thought they were. Unless you are Rex Ryan.
That doesn’t mean we’re not doing a Jets Bash of the Week. Why did Dustin Keller run out of bounds short of the first-down marker? To get to Ines Sainz!
I don’t think we need a Chiefs Plug of the Week (they did win, after all), but here goes: Look out AFC West! KC just beat your best team despite its QB going 10-for-22 for 68 yards. What happens when Matt Cassel doesn’t suck?
If Nick Johnson and Bob Sanders held a staring contest, who would get hurt first? Answer below.
I don’t know what else to add about Calvin Johnson’s “incompletion,” except to say the same thing I did about the Dustin Johnson PGA Championship debacle: Good ruling, bad rule. And one that should’ve been changed a while ago.
I will say this, though: I didn’t have any doubts left about Jim Schwartz. If I had, they would have been erased by how he handled that. The Lions will be in the playoffs in 2011.
I know the Chargers are saying they won’t miss Vincent Jackson and all, but I’m pretty sure one of his greatest skills was his ability to not fall down. Seriously, SD, get a receiver who knows what cleats are.
And whenever I watch Legedu Naanee, I ask myself, “Whatever happened to Ashley Lelie?”
After watching the Giants and the Panthers, I’m glad I didn’t follow my season-ending advice from last year on Jonathan Stewart in my fantasy draft.
There was a guy in the crowd at New Meadowlands Stadium wearing a Giants’ “09” jersey. Why would anyone buy a jersey that celebrates a single year? And how dumb does that guy feel that the year he’s celebrating consisted of an 8-8 record?
Please, please, please can we drop the New from the name of that stadium? If we can’t name it Wellington Mara Stadium because of the stupid Jets, let’s at least go with something regal, like, East Rutherford Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
I didn’t see the game, so I’m just assuming Jim Caldwell and Co. rested Peyton Manning this week, right?
At least we don’t have to deal with that nonsense again. Like a Roger Federer match, the Colts are always more interesting when they drop a game (set) early.
Anomalous Week 1 games, however, happen all the time. Just last year, the Niners won in Arizona, the Broncos in Cincinnati, and the Bills had a game stolen from them in New England. Two years ago, the Bears crushed the Colts in Indianapolis. So while I’m glad the Texans beat the Colts, I doubt they’ll finish ahead of them in the standings.
Speaking of, I’m not reading too much into the Seahawks’ trouncing of San Francisco. Truth is, Seattle had a blowout win last year in Week 1 over St. Louis, lost three games, blew out Jacksonville by 41, and then lost eight of their last 11. They just don’t play close games; only three of their 16 games last season were decided by 10 points or fewer.
If Nick Johnson and Bob Sanders held a staring contest, who would get hurt first? Greg Oden. That’s right, the answer is Greg Oden.
Week 1 is always a great time to start digesting all the uniform tweaks! First up, the Redskins brought back their beautiful gold pants from the 1970s while the Rams brought back the golds they had neglected for two seasons. Nice to see both, as gold is an excellent contrasting color in both schemes (white never made sense for St. Louis). The Eagles’ throwbacks reminded me how much I’d like a team to go back to kelly green, even if I think Philly’s usual look is good. The Seahawks decided against wearing their slightly darker pants at home (to match the blue on their shoulders rather than the blue of the jersey), which they did in the preseason and made their bad uniforms more tolerable.
The aforementioned hierarchy of affection for AFC teams:
14. New England
13. New York
11. San Diego
4. Kansas City
A brief explanation: Obviously it changes over time with which fan bases have success and which don’t. You know how much I love the 1995 Colts and Jim Harbaugh.* So it comes down to who’s starved for success, which fan bases I feel deserve it, which teams I personally enjoy watching, which coaches I like, and, of course, uniforms.
An NFC hierarchy, based more on how the teams are actually performing (or, if I were making my season predictions today), complete without explanations:
16. St. Louis
15. Tampa Bay
9. San Francisco
5. New York
3. New Orleans
1. Green Bay