Posts Tagged ‘football’


More Thoughts on Why We Like Football

September 21, 2010

For some reason football is still on my mind. I’m sitting in a hotel in downtown Seattle watching the end of the Monday night game between San Francisco and New Orleans. The end of the game had plenty of drama–SF looking like they’d self-destructed with a turnover, then their defense forcing a Saints field goal instead of a TD that would have iced the game, then marching down the field to score a tying TD (after barely converting a two-point play), then unable to stop the Saints on the game’s last drive, as the champs kicked the winning field goal as time expired. Wow, all that back-and-forth late in the game creates a lot of drama in about five minutes of game time.

The drama is heightened because of my other two reasons why we like football. The reasons are related. The first is that football offers the possibility of perfection. There’s an adage in baseball that everybody wins a third of their games, everybody loses a third, and it’s the other third–54 games–that determines where the teams finish in the standings. But football is not that way. If football followed baseball’s math, it would be rare for a team to win more than ten games out of sixteen. ┬áBut every season several teams win at least 11 or 12, and usually one team wins 10 in a row to start a season. And in college, with its wider range of talent and shorter season, it’s unusual for there not to be at least two undefeated teams at season’s end. So fans can expect perfection and it’s not unheard of. If the Yankees lose 2 in a row to the Royals in mid-July, no one notices. But the 49ers (and the Cowboys and the Vikings too) are now 0-2 and it’s huge–their chances of winning their division or making the playoffs are considerably steeper.

The related reason is that, because there are so few games, each is an event. With tailgates, bar promotions, satellite television, and all-day cable TV coverage, the limited number of games heightens the value of each. And that’s just the regular season–all of this just gets ramped up more when the playoffs start, capped off with the most-hyped day of America’s sporting year: the Super Bowl. Falling between MLK weekend and Valentine’s Day, it’s almost an extension of the winter holidays, celebrating our civic religion.

ESPN will digest yesterday’s games, and tonight’s, all week, until it’s time to start priming the pump of interest in next weekend’s events. The combination of adrenaline, alcohol, media focus, and the militaristic/patriotic tones the game has always evoked, and it adds up to football, our nation’s sporting passion.


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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