Despite what gets written on this site from time to time, I actually like to watch football. That is to say I can find some enjoyment in sitting around to watch a game on a Sunday afternoon when another family or outdoor activity would be more suitable. Hey, I’m not exactly one of those faux-macho dudes who likes to wear a shirt with another man’s name stenciled on the back; binge on high-cholesterol, high-carbohydrate or high-alcohol content perishables; scream and yell while slapping another man’s hand; or paint my face. I leave that to the professionals.
But from time to time I like to watch the Eagles and have, on occasion, made specific plans to watch a game or two when not working. I just don’t get caught up in the outcome of specific games because – as any seasoned writer would reply – I root for the story.
Stories, of course, are what define us as a species and what makes the world go around. We’re only as good as our content… Or at least that’s what I tell myself.
Anyway, like anyone who has spent any bit of their life in Philadelphia I’m looking forward to the Eagles’ big playoff showdown against the Giants this Sunday. And why not? The two previous meetings between the two clubs were the most entertaining games I saw all season. The first one, way back on a sunny September afternoon at the Linc, was riveting television. Sure, the Giants ended up winning in overtime after the Eagles blew a big lead, but looking at it from a pure entertainment view – which is what sports really is anyway – the game was very enjoyable.
In that regard, I’d say football, more than baseball, is America’s true pastime. Baseball, with its long season covering 26 weeks with a game scheduled for nearly every night from April to October, is more like therapy. If you need a game, it’s there. No questions asked. Take what you need.
Football, conversely, is an event scheduled once per week and building to a frothy, face-painting and trash-talking crescendo. People – even those like me – look forward to games. In baseball they get ready for them.
Before this digresses to a less-than-pithy George Carlin routine, it’s interesting to note that we might not be as entertained or passing our time as well as we could. Oh no, it has nothing to do with us – we’re eating and drinking the correct way and wearing the proper shirts with the correct names and numbers stenciled on the back. Instead, it’s them. The players. Apparently, they aren’t as good or at least they aren’t playing as well as they should.
At least that’s what the splendid writer Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker writes in the latest issue of the magazine. According to Gopnik’s, “The Unbeautiful Game: What's happening to football?” fans are really missing the game if they aren’t watching it from a seat in the stadium, the players aren’t entertaining nor are the fans entertained as they were in the proverbial old days. Instead of Broadway Joe, Johnny U and the unpredictability of the game and the players, we get Donovan McNabb faux silliness and his failure to engage in interview sessions. Or straight-as-an-arrow Tom Brady and his ability to remained so polished and poised on the field and off.
The players are too canned, too together and too media weary and conscious. Times have changed, perhaps.
OK. I know. What the hell does The New Yorker know about football. Don’t they serialize fiction and print poetry?
Yes. Yes they do.
But tell me what I’m supposed to glean from ESPN’s magazine or any of the linked media cacophony they bonk viewers and readers with? Gopnik and his magazine just might have a view and perspective that the entrenched sports media won’t see, touch or bother to think about, and that’s why it’s interesting.
Interesting is one thing, but correct is another. Certainly Gopnik made some interesting and salient points in the magazine’s trademarked sprawling opus, and it’s probably fair to write that the football in 2006-07 isn’t as good as it once was when the league was smaller. But name something that wasn’t good when it was more intimate (so to speak) or discovered? It’s just like that scene in Stripes when Bill Murray’s girlfriend breaks up with him because he likes to sit around and listen to Tito Puente records all day.
Murray, as John Winger, says: “Y'know, one day, Tito Puente will be dead, and you'll say, ‘Oh, I've been listening to him for years, and I think he's fabulous.’”
So for those of you who have been sitting around and listening to those sassy sounds from Tito way back when, is the NFL less entertaining? Do you feel cheated when you flip on the tube or head to the ballpark on Sunday afternoon? Does the supposed dearth of quality play ruin your enjoyment?
Or are you just happy that there are many more people who like to listen to Tito Puente, too?
Anyway, take the Eagles giving the 6½ points to the Giants on Sunday. Normally, I’d be a wet blanket in this situation and go with the underdog, but I changed my mind by the time I get to the end of this essay. Get ready for a trip to New Orleans.
Also, take the Colts giving up 7 to the Chiefs, the Seahawks in a pick ‘em over the Cowboys and the Jets covering the 9 points against the Patriots.