I was listening to the Steve Czaban show on Yahoo Sports Radio this morning, and he read an email from a listener entitled “Eight Months of Darkness”, referring to the upcoming end of the 2013 NFL season. (The Czabe show is unquestionably the best sports talk show around today. No sucking up to athletes or diving into the normal easy troupes of most sports radio shows, but the voice of a true fan talking sports with his crew.) Anyhoo, the letter and conversation struck a cord with me. I am a die hard Eagles and NFL fan. No other sport comes even close to my love of NFL Football. The conversation really got me thinking, why do I love football so? Why doesn’t any other sport stir the passions in me that the NFL does?
The first thing I thought of, when thinking about football, wasn’t LeSean McCoy or Chip Kelly or Donovan McNabb, but my buddies Johnny, Mike, Pat, the Albinson brothers and too many other good friends to list. I love the communal aspect of the sport. I love how for six years I had season tickets with those guys, and would see them every week in the fall. Nothing brings guys together like NFL Sundays. Even since I’ve moved 500+ miles away from them, during the football season I talk to them more than any other time of year. Even in the offseason, if there’s a buddy I haven’t talked to in months, I can call him up (ok, email him) and start talking about the Birds, and it’s like I just saw him. The bonding over football is a brotherhood that we all understand.
I used to be a baseball fan. After the ’94 strike, I lost my interest. Baseball is a sport that’s too slow, with a season that’s too long and is burden with the inequity of wealth. College football is just getting into the playoff business, so I will watch that, but they’ve got a ways to go. The NBA is too top heavy of a league to get into unless you live in Miami, LA, Chicago or Texas. College basketball has been destroyed by players leaving too quickly, so it’s impossible to ever invest in a player who’s going to the pros the following year. And hockey is hockey. (Sorry to my Flyers Faithful, but you either get hockey or you don’t. I don’t.) The NFL, for all its faults and foibles, is as close as we have to the perfect sport. Sixteen game over 17 weeks. Your team only plays once a week, so there is time to both prepare for the upcoming match up and dissect the previous weeks action. Websites to read, interviews to take in and social media debates to be had about every nuance about the game. With every year, fans are becoming smarter and smarter, so the debates become more informed and rich, Everyone has an opinion, and (almost) all are worth debating.
Much to Mrs. Couch’s dismay, I can (and do) watch every NFL game available during the week. I don’t care if it’s Tennessee vs. Cleveland on a Thursday night, I’ll be in front of my HD TV devouring the game. The greatness of this league is that anything can happen during any game and you don’t want to miss it. Spectacular catches, record breaking runs or fantastic finishes are possible at any time. This league has made almost every game have a special feeling that something you’ve never before seen can happen at any time. The NFL is also the only sport with true parity. Going into every season, you feel like your team has a chance. For close to a decade, there’s been a 50% turnover in playoff teams from year to year. No other sport can even come close to that. This year the Chiefs and Eagles were at the top of the draft, but managed to have magnificent seasons and make the playoffs. (We won’t talk about what happened in the playoffs.) Week 17 of the NFL season had close to half the teams with an opportunity to make the playoffs or better their position. The San Diego Chargers needed four games to break their way to get into the playoffs, and they made it and almost upset the Broncos in the second round. The last couple of weeks of this NFL season had a sensational pre-playoff feel to it, that I don’t remember experiencing. Teams who thought their playoff ticket were already punched slid out of the picture, and teams whose season seemed over snuck into the playoffs.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include fantasy football here. I am admitted fantasy addict, listening to at least one podcast a day, and reading too many websites a day to get a leg up. Fantasy has a two prong impact on the love of football. First, it makes every game important to you and has expanded everyone’s knowledge of players league wide. Secondly, it increases your personal community of football. It gives you and your friends another reason to talk and bond over football. It allows you to become competitive with your friends and gives you a feeling of ownership of your own team and players. The impact of fantasy football on the NFL over the 2000′s can not be understated. There are numerous other reasons that the NFL has exploded into the monster it has become over the last decade. Blogs, HDTV, social media, ESPN, NFL Network, the Redzone Channel and Sunday ticket, just to name a few. The access and information has helped the NFL grow to unbelievable heights. Even when they do stupid things, London games, penalizing hitting out of the game and possible schedule expansion, I still watch.
It all comes down to my football community.The guys I used to tailgate with outside the Linc, my fanatical brother-in-law that I watch every game with, and my young boys who don’t understand the game yet, but love the Eagles and know the Cowboys suck. I love this game, I’m going to inhale the last three of the season, and I look forward to my boys becoming more involved and interested in football, so it’s something that we can talk about 30 years from now, even if we live thousand miles away. I love NFL football, and only see my love increasing in the future.