Why Can’t I Quit Football?

I drove up to the cottage Wednesday, in order to get up to Grand Rapids Thursday and meet a couple of Thai tailors who’d flown to town to get everyone fitted with nice cheap suits. (Yay!) For dinner, I drove to a sports bar nearby Saugatuck, hoping to catch a little of the early action of the Tigers-Indians game. From my barstool, I could look at 11 different TV screens at once.

Little did I know, the whole country was counting down the minutes to something monumentally important.

No, not the Democratic convention, but the start of the NFL season!

The countdown to the kickoff! The clock running down in the corner of the screen! The clash between the Dallas Cowboys (America’s Team to some – shudder) and the NY Giants! In the middle of the media capital of the country! More forced amusement and community than in 10 Rockin’ New Year’s Eves! How could such monumentalosity escape my attention?

With the sound off, it was surreal to watch the interviews, and the other interviews, and the retrospectives of the interviews. However, sound-free was definitely the way to enjoy the music and dance-a-ganza taking place midtown in Rockefeller Center (30 Rock, for the more macho announcers). Mariah Carey sang and danced, looking like she had just enough time on the subway to do her hair. Some fat bald rapper recited from a big gold throne, while everyone who wanted to be part of such scripted joy shoved and pushed to wave to their fans at home. Meanwhile, the dancers around Mariah wriggled and shimmied wearing modified shoulder pads. Too bad they were male dancers.

Oh football. Why can’t I quit you?

You embody so much that is crass and overblown in American culture. Every Sunday, we’re urged to get down, pig up, chest bump, drink up (though with shitty beer that only gets you drunk in the manner that Mariah Carey gets you dancing) and roll back evolutionary progress a couple of centuries.

You make us cheer for brutality, long for overstuffed blonde barmaids, treat a 3-hour relaxing TV respite like it were a matter of life and death. You force us to identify with still-adolescent meatheads whose goal in life is not enlightenment or service or ecstasy, but merely to own a mancave decorated entirely with promotional items, an Ali Baba’s cave for the soulless and rudderless.

Still, I can’t quit you.

To enjoy a game, you force us to ignore millions of dollars wasted in glitz and advertising, not to mention millions of tax dollars siphoned off to build high-tech stadiums for the rich and connected. You force us to forget how many former players are hobbling around their houses on shattered knees, or trying to keep from shaking from the concussions they’ve suffered. You require us to forget about the thousands of young men who never make it, but are sold a bill of goods by sadistic, power-mad coaches that they must sacrifice themselves to the game to get ahead when they could be getting an education or learning a trade.

Still, I can’t quit you.

Football, you force me to admire jocks who not only were assholes in high school (the last time we ever existed on the same plane) but now are rich and even more entitled. You force me to make excuses for the players who get arrested for beating up their girlfriends, or even casual passersby. You encourage me to lard stories about heroism and sacrifice and honor upon a bunch of arrogant steroidal gorillas who would only pull over to help a stranded motorist if there were a film crew nearby, who sometimes play with less enthusiasm than a 40-year-old stripper on a pole. And some day, I am completely certain, I will watch a player die on the field from blunt trauma.

Still, I can’t quit you. How can that be? What in God’s name is wrong with me?

The Chicago Bears connect with me more thoroughly than ever did the Detroit Lions (godawful for my entire life in the Motor City) or the Michigan Wolverines (just not that exciting to me). Plugging into the enthusiasm of Bear fans makes me feel like I grew up here, which is a feeling I like to cultivate from time to time. I like to think of my late father and me watching a game on TV sometime, with his long-gone Aunt Helen smoking cigarettes in her kitchen in Homewood and yelling at Butkus. And the time I spend watching the game (even better when my daughter joins me) gives me a chance to suspend responsibility for just a little while, and enjoy watching someone else’s well-laid plans either go well or ill. But these are only partial reasons, dressed in play clothes of nostalgia.

So what is it about you, football, that keeps me coming back? I never played the game. While short-tempered, I’m not a violent person. We have an artistic household, not an athletic one. My wife and son give me grief for watching a game every weekend.

Still, I can’t quit you.

Must be the logos.

Enjoy the season, fans!!

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