The sound of corny aggro pseudo-Sousa on highlights and the bray of eight-dude pregame shows and the screaming -- just straight-up screaming -- of a half-in-the-bag Chris Berman. The terse, impatient crypto-Rumsfeldianism of a coach's press conference and the audible-on-mic line-on-line grunting and the glottal honking of Tony Siragusa in a golf shirt, talking about toughness. It is not only nearly NFL season, it increasingly seems that it is always NFL season. The Real Housewives of New Jersey? That would basically be the AFC North turned into people with burnt umber tans, periodic instances of depressingly cartoonish pontoon fakebreasts, and industrial-grade pill habits. Protests against the Non-Ground Zero Non-Mosque? Basically just New York Jets fans getting ready for the season to start. Katy Perry's videos? They're what people think about while masturbating in the bathroom at Cowboys Stadium, basically. The only difference between Fox News and Fox's pre-game show is that Fox and Friends features nine fewer commentators and no Jimmy Johnson. These are FACTS.
They are not facts. But my push-pull revulsion/attraction to the NFL is both weird and undeniable at this point. Given that I write about football as part of my livelihood -- and that I willingly solicited The Awl in hopes of writing a NFL column this year, and that I am actually going to be writing that column -- I don't really have the option of sitting it out. Increasingly, though, I don't want to sit it out. Increasingly, I'm drawn to the sociocultural car wreck -- and often-torpid sports-watching exercise -- that is the NFL. No pro sport is covered more poorly in the media, I don't think -- who is YOUR favorite NFL writer? Take as much time as you need -- and the interplay between long moments of inertia and short spurts of violence is less poetic to me than it is like being stuck in traffic. No pro sport, with the possible exception of hockey, features less-relatable, less-sympathetic players; no sport anywhere features more unconscionably nasty management or more disagreeable self-important martinets as head coaches. These are pretty close to facts, too. It's not just that I dislike a lot about the NFL. It's that I have a hard time, sometimes, understanding how a decent human being could like anything about the NFL.
But, but: I sort of do like the NFL. I really do like fantasy football, and I really did enjoy watching the NFL Playoffs last year. Which is probably why -- despite the fact that the NFL is easily the most objectionable pro sports league and the sport itself is not at all my aesthetic favorite -- I enjoy writing about the NFL so much. Over the course of a year, I wear down: by Week 14, I'm just kind of mumbling to myself; by Week 16 I'm essentially just making stuff up. By the Super Bowl, I'm basically writing eulogies for everything I hold dear while also trying to discuss injuries in the secondary, the pitfalls of the West Coast Offense, and etc. But I think I not only enjoy the challenge, I enjoy the argument with myself. Being a sports fan is never something I've felt terribly guilty about -- occasionally dorky, but not even really that anymore, as my dorkiness has become something merely factual, rather than something to try to obscure in order to impress others -- but the NFL conjures in me this weird combination of haughty down-the-nose dismissiveness, ethical revulsion, and anthropological how-does-this-even-work curiosity. None of them are exactly fun feelings, but they're all at least more complicated than getting bummed out by how poorly run the Mets are.
I guess this means that I'm ready for some football? I am, at least, roughly as ready as I ever will be, or allow myself to be. Let the challenge begin.