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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Tonight is kickoff for the new NFL season. It’s the one day a year that Ralph and I spend trying to figure out how on this good green earth to actually watch football. When we had cable TV we could turn on some network channel and a game would appear. But that was when things were simple and people had things like cable TV and you only ever really followed your one local team and you didn’t have any other options except to put a giant satellite dish in your yard and hope it didn’t rain.

I would try to explain how complicated it is and how many hours we spend on this day each year to try to figure it out with the end result that we fling our arms up and say forget it, we’ll go to a bar and watch it, but you wouldn’t understand it anyway.

I found an entire chart online that explains it all and I still don’t understand it.

I am even too exhausted by it to complain about it. I mean, the complexity involved in being able to watch a bunch of men bulldoze each other across a field for three hours a week is truly astounding. You can watch only your local games. Or everything but your local games. Or Monday and Sunday games but not Thursday games and never blackout games and no out-of-market games unless they’re national games but always in-market games as long as the sky turns blood orange and the angels weep.

I mean, there’s filing your taxes, and there’s trying to watch NFL games, in increasing order of absolute twisted mayhem.

It’s the kind of thing that makes me want to pretend it never happened and say what’s football?

It’s been so long since I watched it that I no longer know who anyone is. The last bastion of anyone I knew just bounced from Green Bay to the Jets and I am not sure how I feel about that.

Yes I am sure how I feel. I could not care less.

Still, I have an affinity for watching men bulldoze each other across a field every week.

It used to not be that way, for the first 30-plus years of my life. Then our friend Little Ralph stayed with us for a while and he taught me about the game and I was hooked.

Little Ralph is not little but he is Ralph and had to be distinguished from my husband in some way so was bequeathed with that moniker.

He was a Buffalo Bills fan.

This was perhaps not the best initiation into football since the Bills had a terrible record and did rather poorly. They have the honor, along with the Vikings, of having the most Super Bowl appearances with the least wins. Zero wins, to be exact.

But I was an enthusiastic student and he was a spirited teacher and we spent many Sundays glued to the TV debating the finer points of whether or not a play counted as a first down. This was accompanied by much drinking of whatever we drank at the time – not yet high-falutin enough for cocktails so I suspect beer and shots of peach schnapps – and consumption of various chips and junk food.

He bought me a Drew Bledsoe jersey.

We had a lot of fun watching games together but after a few years I realized what a losing proposition THAT was and became a Giants fan, which was more about the geography than the team. The Jets were too busy losing back then for me to jump from one sinking ship to another.

My Ralph bought me a Tiki Barber jersey.

I knew a ridiculous amount of football minutia in those days, which may account for the fact that I can’t remember where my keys are today. Those brain cells were clearly used up.

We had quite a lot of fun watching and verbally jousting, Little Ralph rooting for the losing but endearing Bills, my Ralph rooting for the Patriots (traitor!) and me rooting for the Giants, who handily crushed the Patriots in the last Super Bowl I actually cared about.

After a while I just rooted for the worst teams because I felt bad for them.

The only team I ever picked on my own was the Green Bay Packers because I had read the intriguing fact that Green Bay is the only team that is fan-owned. Early on when the franchise was struggling, they sold shares to fans who still own them to this day. I love that.

My Ralph bought me an autographed Brett Favre helmet.

But I think the real thing about football is the peripherals. If you think about it, you spend three or four hours just to watch one hour of play time, so you have to do something in between. And that something always involved eating and drinking.

It’s not unlike baseball, which can be a painfully dull game but you don’t go for the non-stop action. You go for the occasional ball hit out of the park and for the hot dogs and beer.

You watch football for the yelling when someone throws a flag and for the nachos.

When we lived in our condo we had friends who lived around the corner who would come over every Sunday for football but mostly for my nachos and plantains and guacamole and the ten other things I made to sustain us through three or four hours.

The Super Bowl was an excuse to invite everyone we knew and to add pigs in blankets to the roster along with anything we could throw on the grill in the middle of February.

The game was fun but the best parts usually happened during the wardrobe malfunctions, which gave everyone something to scream about for a long time after.

There is a misconception that the halftime show should be good. I mean, when they’re good they’re good, but when they’re bad they’re spectacular, and they are bad more often than not. There is nothing worse than a “fine” halftime show. If you can’t complain about it for the next six months, what’s the point?

It was also the one day each year that you actually got excited about ads. You’d eat and drink and yell all game long but when the ads came on there was a hush over the land as you waited for the hilarious and the horrible, the clever and the cringe-worthy. And always the Budweiser ads, which never made me want to drink Budweiser but always made me want a horse.

When the internet took over that mostly went away because now everyone puts their ads online ahead of time. I guess when you’re coughing up six or seven million dollars for a 30-second spot you have to get the most you can out of it, but it takes away that sense of anticipation and novelty.

It’s been a long time since I caught more than an occasional game if it happened to be playing in the background while we were out at a bar or the cigar lounge. I’ve missed it.

This year we found a solution, or as close to one as you can get given the complexity of the NFL’s licensing agreements. We signed up for YouTubeTV which is this generation’s version of cable. Combined with Amazon Prime, we can watch almost all of the games we want.

But more importantly, Peloton just implemented a feature where you can watch YouTubeTV on the bike. That clinched the deal.

Now I can happily bike away and watch the Bills lose or watch the Packers do whatever it is the Packers do these days. I’m looking forward to a season of yelling at the screen when there is a badly thrown pass and saying things like Your only job is the catch the ball, you moron!

I don’t much care who wins or loses, as long as the team I’m rooting for on any given night wins. Who that is depends on my mood. It might be the Bills or the Giants. It could be Tennessee but never the Dolphins or Washington. I have standards.

The only thing that would make the whole thing more perfect is if Peloton figured out a way to hold my nachos.

Photo: tonight’s game on the TV and the Peloton screen, ready for the season.