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How football stopped being fun

In my right-wing/tea partying/Glenn Beck-loving family, this is probably a greater heresy than admitting I once voted for George McGovern. • Still, brothers and sisters, I have to confess. There will be a season of National Football League games this year. And I don't care. • This admission does not come easily. In our family it was a tossup regarding who was the greater deity to be worshipped in Ohio on Sundays — God almighty, or the Cleveland Browns.

There will be hell to pay for this, but I preferred the disciples of Jimmy Brown, Lou Groza and company. I adored football. I played football, though not very well. In fact, the first person I ever interviewed was the legendary Browns wide receiver Paul Warfield for my high school newspaper. I was in such awe I didn't know what to do first — ask questions or genuflect.

The gridiron runs deep in the gene pool. To this day, my 89-year-old mother could easily hold her own on ESPN on any subject related to football.

My estrangement from the game has evolved over the years. Perhaps it was the growing sense of elitism and sense of privilege on the part of the players. Perhaps it was the ridiculous costs of attending a game, not to mention having to subject oneself to being groped by security personnel at Helloooooo Sucker Stadium simply to watch multimillionaires beat the living daylights out of each other.

Perhaps it was merely being fed up with the Glazers being Glazers.

And maybe the first of the final straws came about a year or so ago, when the Wall Street Journal analyzed the average NFL game and discovered that the real time between the snap of the ball and end of the play over the course of four, 15-minute quarters only totaled about 11 actual minutes of "action" on the field, not counting the Mardi Gras-like celebrations in the end zone when somebody scores.

So the owners and the players have been arguing over how to divvy up $9.3 billion in revenue in order to play an 11-minute game once a week. If you divide the game time in half, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning makes about $16 million a year to play 51/2 minutes of football each week.

Why, I asked myself, am I watching this silliness? Why are any of us?

It may be silly, but it's dangerous silly. It could be the early seeds of my creeping conflicts over football began when in 1984 when I briefly interviewed the late Darryl Stingley, the New England Patriots receiver who was made a quadriplegic by a brutal (and perfectly legal at the time) hit by the Oakland Raiders' Jack Tatum.

Was football worth this?

And now I am watching so many of the players I admired and at times rooted for and against struggling with and succumbing to brain injuries they sustained all for the dining and dancing pleasure of — us.

The late Mike Webster of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears and most recently the late John Mackey of the Baltimore Colts, men I remember in the full flower of their invincible athletic youth, reduced in middle age to shadows of themselves.

There are times now when I watch Troy Aikman and Steve Young, both former quarterbacks who sustained numerous concussions over the course of their careers, and it is like seeing two men with a sword dangling over their heads. Will they eventually wind up like Mackey, a wheelchair-bound monosyllabic shell who was waiting to die?

So whenever I watch a game, I feel almost like a voyeur being entertained by gladiatorial men willing to sacrifice their bodies and their consciousness to sell a ticket and a beer.

"Are we Rome?" the writer Cullen Murphy asked. Yes, but with better instant replay.

Will I never watch another football game? I can't say that. There are certainly moments in a game when a perfectly thrown pass, or an inspired open-field run, or a gritty goal-line stand is a thing of beauty. But I just don't care that much anymore to bother to tune in.

I can't remember the last Sunday night or Monday night game I've watched. I only turn the dial to the Tampa Bay Bucs when they happen to play my favorite team, which is whomever they happen to be playing.

And that is hardly a worthwhile use of time — even 11 minutes.

How football stopped being fun 07/28/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 28, 2011 6:14pm]
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