Why Football?

September 16, 2010

When I was a kid I loved watching football. Why not? Everyone did. I watched my high school and college teams play, and it never occurred to me that I would not watch. I’ve been in a fantasy league since 1985, when we had to fax each other our picks–there was no Web. But sometime around parenthood football stopped being fun to watch. I got bored. For the last several years the only game I’ve watched start-to-finish is the Super Bowl, and usually I do not watch any regular season football.

But over the last few weeks, I’ve been listening to more sports talk than usual, and you can’t do that without hearing a lot about football. I did my usual last-minute fantasy draft preparations. And by last weekend I found myself checking in on the UNC/LSU game and the Boise St/Va Tech game. Each had an exciting finish. So I started asking myself, what is football’s appeal? Why is it fun to watch?

I’ve been a soccer fanatic for about four years now, and I think it’s funny to hear fans of American sports say soccer is boring, because it’s low scoring. But soccer has continuous action, and a team can score a goal ten seconds after barely avoiding conceding one. By contrast, baseball has a lot of waiting for action. And the ball doesn’t move a lot in football either–lots of time runs down as teams regroup after a play, huddle up for the next one, then wait at the line to start again. It’s boring for me. So why did I watch?

Two reasons come to mind right away. First is the NASCAR reason–I watch to see if someone’s going to get hurt. Once you step out of the football cone and wonder why it’s so popular, it’s stunning to see that violence is at the game’s core. I love hockey, and I love the hits in hockey (if not the fights), but hockey’s core is speed. Football’s is violence. Hitting is required on every single play, and most of the time a hit is required to end a play. We are drawn to that.

The second reason, at least for me last weekend, was that there is the possibility of a long score.The possibility that a team can score from any point on the field gives each play some drama. We love the image of the running back breaking into the secondary, or the receiver racing down the sideline. We may not admit to our love of violence, but all Americans love to speak about freedom, and football gives us all the chance to imagine ourselves free of the obstacles of our daily lives, sprinting into open space.

Why do you like football?


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