Friday, September 7, 2012

Football Is Not My Game

I have grown increasingly disillusioned with football over the last few years. There have been a few causes.

Part of it is the realization of just how brutal a game it is. The injuries, including to the human brain, can be devastating.

Part of it is the fact that I don't really have a favorite NFL team. I could never root for the Giants because I was angry at them for moving to my home State of New Jersey but not changing their name to reflect this. 

I could never root for the Jets because their fans were so obnoxious when I was a kid, riding the fame of Joe Namath, even though they never won another Playoff game with Broadway Joe after that one Super Bowl he led them to. And then the Jets moved and also did not change their name to "New Jersey."

I've long since gotten over that fact, but I still find myself totally unable to embrace either team. And the next-closest team is the Philadelphia Eagles, and you know what you call an Eagles fan? A masochist.

Part of it is the fact that the New England Patriots, led by their cheating coach Bill Belichick, remain the defining team of this era, in spite of the fact that, while they have been to 2 Super Bowls in the last 5 seasons, they haven't won one in the last 7. The fact that they are the Boston area's team should be irrelevant in this feeling, but it is not.

Part of it is the NFL players. They are harder than ever to root for because of their behavior, on and off the field, from steroid use to stupid dances celebrating touchdowns and sacks and considerably lesser achievements, from crude behavior toward women to actual crimes, often involving guns. This is not a racial thing: There have been plenty of white miscreants, such as Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Jeremy Shockey, shall I go on?

Part of it is the NFL team owners. If an NBA player misbehaves, the coach tells the owner, "Either he goes or I go," and the coach goes. If an MLB player misbehaves, it's a 50-50 proposition over who goes. But if an NFL player commits an infraction -- even if it's a violation of a dipshit "uniform code" rule, like when Peyton Manning wanted to honor Johnny Unitas on the occasion of Johnny U's death by wearing black high-top cleats like Johnny U wore, and the NFL wouldn't let him -- that player gets slapped down, with extreme prejudice.

And players can get cut, for any reason, or no reason. Contract? What the hell is a contract? We don't need no stinkin' contracts. You want to sue? Good luck. And the NFL Players Association is the weakest of the big 4 sports' players' unions.

Part of it is the NFL fans. And it's not just their obnoxiousness, in the stadium or in the bar. Of the big 4, none is more likely to be involved in "fantasy leagues."

Imagine it's the last week of the regular season. Say you're a Giants fan. (I'm not addressing anyone in particular -- am I, "Tio"?) The G-Men are trailing by 6 points with time for 1 more play. A field goal won't help. You need Eli Manning to engineer a touchdown on this play. If he does, presuming the extra point is good, the Giants win, are NFC East Champions, and get home-field advantage in at least the first round of the Playoffs. But if Eli and the rest of the Big Blue offense fail, they lose the game, and they may not even make the Playoffs (i.e. they don't control their own destiny and need at least one other team to lose).

Except that you have the opposing team's defense as your fantasy league team's D, and you're in 2nd place in your league, and the guy ahead of you has Eli as your quarterback. Do you root for your club, or for yourself?

Part of it is what's happened to college football. True, we're about to get closer than ever to a true playoff for the National Championship. And the traditions and stories of the college game are much better than in the pro game -- and, since there's 124 teams in the FBS (college football's equivalent of the major leagues, what we used to call Division I-A), against only 32 in the NFL, there's a whole lot more tradition.

But with the misbehavior of players and coaches, the egos, the money, and scandals, especially in major programs (Penn State, Ohio State, USC, Miami), it's getting to be as bad as the NFL, and, in a way, worse: While the players are younger in the college game, that means the coaches need to do more teaching, more mentoring, so they need to know better. So many of them are not acting like they do.

Part of it is what's happened to Rutgers. Greg Schiano took them a very long way. But he could only take them so far. And, while I give him credit for turning down college football powers Michigan and Miami (and he surely would have been a candidate at Penn State had he not taken the Tampa Bay job first), with work still to be done, he left Rutgers to become head coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

True, his assistant Kyle Flood got off to a good start last week, but, still, it feels like the ride Schiano took us on ended too soon. Put it this way: If you're getting on a bus to New York, you wouldn't like it if the driver pulls over at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel and says, "So long, boys, I'm gettin' in that limo that's pullin' up next to us!"

Part of it is what's happened to my high school's football team. East Brunswick High won State Championships in 2004 and 2009, after not winning one since 1972 -- the week after my family and I moved to the town. I was beginning to think we were the jinx. But we won those titles in the 2000s. And we made the Playoffs again in 2010.

But last year, we lost our 1st 8 games before winning the end-of-season "consolation game" and then losing the annual Thanksgiving Day game to arch-rival Old Bridge. EB starts a new season tonight, and while the single game is winnable, I'm not optimistic for the season as a whole.

And part of it is my interest in soccer that has grown the last few years. That other "football" opened up a whole new world to me -- almost literally. So many teams, so many styles, so many stories I didn't know before.

Football has been America's most popular sport, surpassing baseball, pretty much my entire lifetime. But it has never been my game, even when I was at EBHS and we were a great team.

And it won't be my game now.

Well, it will be my game tonight. But, even at Jay Doyle Field, I'll be checking my smartphone for both Yankees vs. Orioles and USA soccer vs. Jamaica.


Hours until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 4, tonight at 7:00, home to South Brunswick. I'm glad it's a home game: It's always good to open the season at home, and South Brunswick is particularly tough to get to: Despite the distance, it's not close to public transportation. But that's the only thing I have against them: Though they are neighbors, they are not rivals. I intend to attend this game, which will hopefully end around 9:00 PM, so I can get somewhere and see most of this game which starts at 9:30:

Hours until the U.S. National Soccer Team plays again: 5, tonight at 8:00, against Jamaica in their capital of Kingston. The Stars & Stripes come off their first-ever win over arch-rival Mexico on Mexican soil, beating El Tri 1-0 at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Maybe Jurgen Klinsmann is starting to figure out how to pick a lineup. The U.S. team will also play Jamaica the following Tuesday, at Columbus Crew Stadium in Ohio. The next games will be in October at Antigua & Barbuda (that's one country), and against Guatemala in Kansas City. 

Hours until Rutgers plays football again: 25, tomorrow afternoon at 3:30, home to Howard University, the historically black school of Washington, D.C. that likes to bill itself as "The Black Harvard." Should be an easy win for Rutgers' football team, but they'll never win the battle of the bands.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 4, next Tuesday night, September 11, at Fenway Park. Hopefully, the Red Sox and their fans will respect the anniversary. After all, both planes that hit the old World Trade Center -- those words don't sound right, and they certainly don't look right, but there is a new one -- took off from Boston's Logan International Airport.

Days until Arsenal play another competitive match: 8, a week from tomorrow, home to Southampton, the newly-promoted South Coast team. This weekend, there are no Premier League games due to an international break, a.k.a. an Interlull, so Arsenal can't build on that fantastic 2-0 win over Liverpool at Anfield this past Sunday.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 15, against the New England Revolution in Foxboro on Saturday, September 22. Just 2 weeks. They go to Chester to face the Union on Saturday, October 27. They will not play Washington's D.C. United again this season, unless it's in the Playoffs, which is possible, although, at the moment, the Red Bulls would have the 3rd seed and D.C. are on the outside looking in, but only by 1 point.

Days until the Devils play again: 35, opening the season on Friday night, October 12, away to the Washington Capitals. If, that is, the owners don't lock the players out again. If they don't, then it's 5 weeks. The home opener is the next night, against the Boston Bruins.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: 40, on Wednesday night, October 17, the 3rd game of the season, the 2nd home game, at the Prudential Center, against the Rangers, the first meeting between the teams since Adam Henrique put The Scum in their place. The first meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers will be on Thursday night, November 1. I'd say the game will be at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly, but that's dependent on the arena's name not being changed... again. The first meeting with the New York Islanders will be on Saturday night, November 17, at the Nassau Coliseum. Barring a big change, there will be only 3 seasons left at the Coliseum -- and possibly only 18 more Devils-Islanders games, unless the Isles build a new arena, move to the Barclays Center, or somehow make the Playoffs in the next 3 seasons.

Days until the first Nets game in Brooklyn: 55, on Thursday, November 1, against the now actually crosstown Knicks. Just 8 weeks.

Days until the 2012 Presidential election: 58. Under 2 months. Register to vote... and on November 6, vote!

Days until the next North London Derby: 71, on Saturday, November 17, at the Emirates Stadium. Just 10 weeks. The return fixture will be on Saturday, March 2, 2013, at White Hart Lane.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 76.  Just 11 weeks. Come on you Boys in Green! Beat those Purple Bastards!
Days until Alex Rodriguez collects his 3,000th career hit: 359 (estimated around September 1, 2013). This is taking his recent injury into account. Under 1 year.
Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 513 (February 2, 2014). Under 17 months.
Days until the 2014 Winter Olympics: 520 (February 7, 2014).
Days until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: 643 (June 12, 2014). Under 22 months.
Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 700th career home run: 738 (estimated, around September 15, 2014).
Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 1,428 (August 5, 2016). Under 2 years.
Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 756th career home run to surpass all-time leader Hank Aaron: 1,484 (estimated -- I'm guessing around the end of 2016, around September 30).
Days until Alex Rodriguez hits his 763rd career home run to become as close to a "real" all-time leader as we are likely to have: 1,727 (estimated -- estimating 28 home runs a year, taking his current injury into account, I'm guessing around April 30, 2017, at age 41).  Under 3 1/2 years -- if he can.

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