I think I’m going to stop watching football.
It won’t be the first sport I’ve given up on. After the 2002 season, I stopped following baseball. I had come to the conclusion that 162 games of over three hours each was way too much time for a 42-year-old to be devoting each year to the minutiae of multimillionaires running around a park in their pajamas and hitting a ball with a club. Almost anything I could do instead — reading a book, watching a movie, riding a bike, playing guitar — would be a more rewarding use of my dwindling existence.
Besides, baseball was no longer the pastime I had loved. The jocularity of Harry Caray and the elegance of Vin Scully had been replaced by the soulless jabbering of Caray’s grandson Chip and the thundering sound effects of Fox Sports. Instead of the charm and grace of Ernie Banks, there was now the boorish posturing of Sammy Sosa. The brick wall behind the batter had become yet another advertising space. To hell with it all.
So I quit baseball. The only game I watched at all in 2003 was the October 14 fiasco at Wrigley Field. I tuned in around the seventh inning and got to see the entire Steve Bartman incident unfold. From my new position as a non-fan, it was hilarious to see the Chicago Cubs come unhinged, and it confirmed to me that I had made a sound decision. I do not miss it. These days, I think of baseball as a peculiar oddity from another century, like penny-farthing bicycles or lion taming.
Yet I have continued to follow NFL football. I associate it with a whole bundle of sentiments and memories that range from my dad’s booming punts over neighborhood rooftops to the smell of the leaves and turf at the bottom of a tackle. The NFL Films version of “Drunken Sailor” was the soundtrack for most of my childhood imaginings and The First 50 Years was my most cherished book. A poster of Dick Butkus adorned my bedroom wall and I had a seat in the endzone the day he caught a pass from Bobby Douglas. I have spent my entire life right where Bear and Packer territories overlap, a land where traffic disappears on autumn Sundays at noon. Football is a given here. Besides, the season is only 16 games long.
Yesterday, however, I think I may have reached my limit.
I started with Bears Game Day Live at 10:30, and then Fox NFL Sunday at 11. Sometimes on the Fox show there will be a three or four-minute commercial break, followed by a minute of show, followed by another three or four-minute commercial break. Between the yelling of Terry Bradshaw and the jarring sound effects, it’s all just typical Fox noise. I really don’t care who Jimmy Johnson or Howie Long thinks will win, and I have never understood the appeal of Jillian Reynolds. The only thing I enjoy on the show is Frank Caliendo‘s segment, so why am I wasting time on all the other nonsense?
Next, as has been the case for all three weeks of the season so far, the Green Bay Packers played at noon. I watched the whole game via DVR, pausing it as necessary to talk to my sister on the phone and do a couple of loads of laundry. As always, Lambeau Field was filled to the maximum. As usual, Brett Favre threw touchdown passes at critical moments. In fact, he tied the all-time record for touchdown passes and later claimed not to even care. It was a beautiful fall day, Bart Starr was there to wave at halftime, the Packers stayed unbeaten, and the fans were ecstatic.
I can never be a Packer fan. The green and yellow have made me queasy since kindergarten. The names of Packer players are annoying to my ears. I realize that Brett Favre is perhaps the greatest quarterback in history, but he doesn’t inspire me. Good for him, good for all those fans, I guess. The whole thing seems like a foreign religion to me.
After the Packers game, CBS showed highlights of other games. There were lots and lots of highlights and commercials, all of which rapidly became overwhelming and meaningless. Long story short, the Philadelphia Eagles were wearing very funny-looking throwback uniforms.
I took a short break from watching football and we went to the store, eventually sitting back down at 6:00 to a chicken dinner in front of Football Night in America, which is another full hour of TV about football. I do enjoy Keith Olbermann, and he is a keen follower of both baseball and football. He depressed me by reciting the lengthy list of lackluster Chicago Bears quarterbacks that Rex Grossman has joined. All of the day’s highlights were shown all over again, and I was reminded that the Philadelphia Eagles were wearing very funny-looking throwback uniforms.
The 7:15 game finally got underway at about 7:25, but the Bears never really did. In between lengthy commercial assaults, Grossman was briefly good and mostly poor. There’s an exhausting cycle that reiterates though most of his games: He’ll perform weakly, underthrowing his receivers or fumbling the snap or giving up an interception or simply failing to make a first down. This, then, gives the ball to the opposing team. Before long, however, the Bears’ defense will harass and rattle the opponents and get the ball back, which feels fantastic for a couple of seconds until you remember that they’re putting it right smack into the hands of the very same Rex Grossman, beginning the circle of frustration all over again. It’s the classic good news/bad news joke, and it really wears on the nerves with repeated tellings.
By the end of the game, I was angry. I was angry at Chicago Bears management for sticking with Grossman year after year when his mediocrity has been obvious all along. Much like our current president, it’s almost incomprehensible that this is the guy at the helm. I was shouting at the TV and irritating Amy. Bears players were getting injured and now the whole season was floating toward the drain.
Mostly, I was angry at myself for wasting an entire beautiful Sunday in September on such painful pointlessness. I could have saved the electricity, simply hit myself in the head with a rubber mallet all day, and accomplished as much. Plus, even if they had won, would I be much better off? The Bears went all the way to the Super Bowl last year, and I can’t point to much benefit for all the hours I invested. Sure, there are bursts of entertainment, but you have to sit through an awful lot of tedium during the course of a season — penalties, challenges, timeouts, measurements. Officially, it’s 60 minutes of football, and even some of that is huddling as the clock runs. In reality, each three and a half hour game consists mostly of waiting and commercials.
Next Sunday, the Bears play the Detroit Lions at noon. Maybe we’ll be on a bike trail or doing some project around the house, but I think we’ll skip the football for a change.