The NFL playoffs are a go! Man, it sure does suck that all of the games this last weekend went the opposite way I had hoped. That's alright though, I had no chicken in any of those cockfights. The Pats don't play until this weekend. Coincidentally, they're playing the Texans again, which made me recall the last time they played the Texas on a Monday night game.
Fucking Monday Night Football, man.
Watching Monday Night Football on ESPN is like going home for Christmas if your family lived inside of a giant whale. Not only is it a giant whale, it's the most popular whale in the world! Normally you just check out the whale when it swims by. What a majestic animal! I'd prefer to observe whales from the outside. It's less horrifying. However, on this occasion, you have to go home, into the whale, and sit on its tongue while you watch its insides churn with the assistance of an efficient, transparent bile.
You get to look at professional football's brain. You get to see where the NFL's storylines are digested. You get to see how the whale breathes. There's a whole set of stomachs devoted to filtering plankton and messages from Twitter.
You get a text from a buddy:
Dude, big game tonight! I heard you're inside the whale!
Well, yeah, but have you noticed how weird it is inside the whale? Like, how obviously it consumes billions of tiny krill and uses it for energy? And the krill just kinda float there, waiting to be eaten? They're almost happy about it. I like it when I get to watch the whale jump out of the water. I don't like it when I'm in the belly of the beast where seawater, oxygen, microorganisms, marketing, and shit combine to form a Monday Night Football game on ESPN.
First, two hours of pre-game. It runs from 6:30 to 8:30.
The NFL has made caring about the entire NFL into a massive hobby.
All because some dorks that grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons started doing ad-hoc fantasy football, because numbers and stats are neat, and it's good to be able to keep tabs on the players you drafted.
Wait, I thought nerds weren't allowed to have fun with jocks? Well, the league still wants your money, bro! Haha! Noogie! It's stunning that the allure of attaching numbers to a league-wide clusterfuck of data has become such a melting pot. Long ago, building a team of chaotic characters and having their data clash would have been enough to get some shithead with thyroid problem getting straight-C's to take your GameBoy and throw it in the toilet. These days, if you aren't playing fantasy football, you're not even part of the national conversation.
(I do feel like an ass for not playing this year. It's kinda fun, and I'm usually pretty good at it, but not as good as the guy that auto-drafted all of his players because he had somewhere better to be on that particular night when the rest of us were huddled around our laptops.)
Wait, what? Didn't you hear, having intricate knowledge about useless minutia is where it's at! Look at John Gruden. Actually, kneel first. Don't look actually at him though. Do not look directly at Mister Gruden! He's getting into the zone! He's gotta talk some feetsball for a few hours. If you want, you can hold his coke mirror though.
Gruden's spontaneity in coughing up his two cents on an established, agreed-upon storyline is a Russian bus-collision of mixed messages. It's just squacking chickens covered in whale oil and vodka-soaked rage scattered across a "two lane" "road." The NFL is all at once a self-reverential leviathan, one that demands that you bow and not look directly at it like some kind of conquering Khan, and yet with its other hand, it's a welcoming dad asking you to sit on his knee and blow an entire day witnessing athleticism. These are great men. Respect them! No, they're just guys with jobs. Their jobs happen to be filmed. That means we get to scrutinize them and give them positive or negative feedback.
That's part of the social contract they entered into when they were born physical freaks. If Mark Sanchez doesn't like being ridiculed, he can always fall back on his degree in... communications?! Omph. Anyway.
"Welker can't catch shit tonight," my friend said.
"You know, Tom Brady (commentators always refer to a quarterback by his entire name like he's in the House of Lords (and rightly so, Tom Brady is The Prince of Humans)) has been throwing balls at Welker all evening, and he hasn't been able to convert," observed Gruden.
"Yes, thank you!" my friends and I say in unison. It's that fine moment when you feel engaged in passive entertainment. It's a surprising and rewarding feeling. It also proves something that you probably knew a long time ago -- you don't need color commentary. You don't need some overpaid fellow in a suit wearing a headset repeating what you just said five seconds later to your actual, physically-there friend in actual, for-real life. You, yes, you, football fan, have got a brain. You don't need validation.
Oh, but we do. We do need it so badly. We need to connect with the National Football League like a desperate, confused little shit dating the popular girl that you just know is doing it as a goof. However, we weren't the ones that decide that she was playing a joke. Somebody else planted that seed. Somebody else told you that not only are you an NFL fan, you need to prove it. Prove it like the cheesehead screaming at Aaron Rodgers in the ad for State Farm Insurance ("RODGERS! Discount-doublecheck!"). Prove it like the guy with gray hair trying to get the Saint Louis Rams' running back attention -- who is nameless and expendable -- by showing off the jersey he bought. Then he shouts at his mom, off camera, to stop annoying him, mom, God!
Laughter! It doesn't matter if you're old and pathetic, you can still be a football fan, bro! The NFL still wants you.
This is what your surrogate father thinks of you. That you're a desperate, emotionally-incapable half-human that needs validation of knowledge, that your fandom is worthy of the freakishness threshold that was set up by the Bud Light Presents: Fan Threshold. Knowledge is suddenly an acceptable commodity to trade in. It's alright to be a psychotic, obsessive fan. Remember what it looked like on the inside of the whale? Can you name all of the organs? Do you know how they connect, and can you spot trends, and can you absorb all of it?
Football is the most popular sport (not counting wrestling) on American TV. It's our axis. To have your team featured on ESPN Monday Night Football is to present your science project at a national convention. It's neat to hear the big people talk about your team. Whether they rail your quarterback for being a practice-squad schlub -- which they usually don't, Gruden is usually able to find some praise -- or if your team is the New England Patriots, recognizable, and over-prepared for a contest with the Houston Texans, it's a stunning connection. You get to witness all of this religion in all of its transparency.
"Oh, that's where we fit into the league. Oh, that's what differentiates our defense from the other ones in the league. Grrr, the fucking Jets, man, stop talking about the Jets!"
And fortunately, this passes, and your team doesn't have to play on Monday night every week, and it doesn't have to be forced through the multiple stomachs. I'd say that I feel sorry for the Philadelphia Eagles, having to get churned through all of that so frequently this year, but I'm not. That's an example of the NFL trying to force a team and a storyline onto us, and it just not clicking.
It sucks that the XFL doesn't exist anymore.
-- @Alex Crumb (originally published 1/9/13)