Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Wherefore Art Thou, NFL?

First, a little translation, because I'm surprise by how many people do not know this.

"Wherefore art thou" does not mean "where are you?" It means "why are you?" Juliet said it to Romeo not to find him in the dark, but to lament the fact that he was, in fact, Romeo, a member of the rival family Montague, yet she was falling for him. So, why are you Romeo Montague, whom I am sworn to hate just by being born a Capulet? Oh, and Shakespeare didn't dream up the story. He adapted it from a poem first published two years before he was born.

On to my original topic, and why I think maybe I'm just not an NFL fan anymore.

I went to the Dallas Cowboys game last night. I first became a fan of the Cowboys back in the first grade, when Roger Staubach was still taking the snaps. Tony Dorsett was the superstar I remember best from those days, because I was only 9 when Staubach retired, yet Dorsett had his best season two years later, and I saw (on TV) his record touchdown run of 99 yards. In my second-grade picture, I am wearing a shirt that says "I'm From Cowboy Country," even though I was from Arkansas.

I know now that there were coked-up players throughout the 70's, a fact my grade-school self was oblivious to as I stared in wide-eyed wonderment at America's Team. I'm sure there also were ridiculous sums of money being paid, when adjusted for the value of the dollar. Again, I never remember the topic coming up when I watched in the 70's (or most of the 80's, for that matter).

Fast forward to the early 1990's, when millions of other fans and I watched the Cowboys suffer through a 1-15 season, then rally to win three Super Bowls in a four-year period. I was happy for the team, but I wasn't crazy about Jerry Jones, and I kind of resented the "bandwagon" fans who wear the jersey of whatever team is that year's champion. Also, I've always been a bigger fan of the humble gridiron warrior than the braggarts who seemed to be taking over. No, not Troy Aikman or Emmit Smith. They were my style. Irvin and others, great as they might have been, grated on my nerves. Abuse of substances both legal and illegal made the NFL news a lot, and some documentaries about past teams revealed that the Cowboys teams I had idealized in the past were riddled with the type of people I would never care to meet.

Once I finished college and started working in the real world, I found that time spent watching football on TV felt like time wasted. My weekend time was precious, and football got knocked down several pegs on the priority pole. In fact, it pretty much got pushed completely off. There I was, married, trying to find an affordable place to live, watching the stars sign multi-million dollar contracts and whine when they didn't get what they "deserved." Yes, I know many of them work very hard to maintain their physical condition, but we're talking about millions of dollars. Yes, I know that there are many guys on the bench making a lot less than the guys starting. Again, we're still talking about a lot of money and pretty much no financial hardship for these guys unless it's self-inflicted.

When we lived in northern Virginia for a while, and the local TV stations gave us a steady diet of the Washington Redskins, I tried again to be a football fan so I could root the Cowboys on in a hostile environment.

It didn't work.

I again dropped the NFL and stopped thinking about it for the most part. If I heard or saw a Cowboys score, that inner child would say, "yea," or "aaaugh," but then life would go on with no more than that small blip on the radar.

Several years later, I was invited to be a part of an online fantasy football league. I liked and respected the guy who asked, so I signed up and formed a team. Evidently it was a bit different from the others, in that everyone participating could have exactly the same lineup. There was a salary cap, but everybody playing could have the same running back, quarterback, etc. Also, no points were taken off for anything, and I could have a different set of players each week if needed.

I don't like to do things unless I do well, so I spent some time on this. I paid attention to the strengths and weaknesses of teams opposing my players, so that I could adjust my lineup. I was in a close second place in my group of about 15 all season long, until one week when I stuck with my same players, not realizing my running back's team had a bye. Oops.

After that season (maybe 2000 or 2001?), I again lost interest in the NFL and never really picked up again.

That is, until I moved to the Dallas area. Here I was, in a place where the local team was my childhood dream team. The local paper had huge sections devoted to them. Former players dotted the media landscape and the car dealership billboards. The nearest NFL game was less than an hour's drive away, instead of six, and it was not just any team. It was the Cowboys.

So, last Thursday when a co-worker announced via e-mail that she had an extra ticket for the upcoming Redskins game, I jumped at the chance. Not only were we playing the rival Redskins, but the "triplets" Aikman, Smith, and Irvin were being inducted into the Ring of Honor. I pictured myself truly caring about this while sitting there watching it live, at only my second Cowboys game in person. I had nothing Cowboys-related to wear (this should have been my first hint that I'm probably not a fan anymore), so I went with a generic blue-ish T-shirt.

While waiting to pick up my car after its repair Monday afternoon, I heard an interview with Troy Aikman, in which he affirmed my belief that he was a genuinely good guy, and I thought what a shame it was that these days he seemed an exception to the rule in the NFL. I'm probably not being fair to the players who don't make headlines with date-rapes and general abuse of women, but it's hard to ignore the other things I don't like about professional sports. Namely, that the players are paid ridiculous amounts of money while the average fan can barely afford to attend a game. On this topic and others, David Letterman made a fool of NFL super-agent Drew Rosenhaus. Apparently, Rosenhaus does that pretty well himself. I admit, Letterman is another entertainer getting paid tons of money. However, he charges nothing at the door.

It's getting to be work time, so I have to sum up (are any of you even still with me?), in exciting present-tense.

I can't get in touch with the guy whose wife sold me the ticket, so I drive to the game by myself. I already paid $49 for the ticket and find out when I get there that it's another $15 for parking. After walking a brisk mile to the door (this is not exaggeration) in 93-degree heat, I get in the door about 10 minutes after kickoff, where the score is 0-0. I introduce myself to my co-worker's husband, who turns out to be a very nice guy. Two ladies behind us manage to spill their beer on the seat next to him, and then his seat. Really slosh it good. I go to the concession area to buy a water, and to grab some napkins for beer cleanup. For 16.9 oz. of bottled water, I pay $3.50. Ouch.

Back in the game, it's 13-0 Cowboys in the fourth quarter. Until, that is, they start playing not to lose and give the 'Skins all the opportunity they need to score 14 unanswered points for the win.

Now, the loss notwithstanding, I didn't find myself enjoying being there, besides the camaraderie with my new acquaintance. We knew quite a bit about each other before it was all over. As far as the Ring of Honor thing? Even with my binoculars to see it better, I didn't get caught up at all. It was nice to see a couple of good guys (Troy and Emmit) join the ranks of Staubach and the other few Cowboys greats in the Ring, and I didn't mind Irvin getting in, too. I found, though, that I would have been fine just watching it on TV, and maybe even not seeing it at all.

I think my interest in professional sports died when I moved from being a child to being a man. I'm not saying that pro sports fans are not adults. I'm just saying that, for me, with my perspective and my personal interests, pro sports have lost their foothold. Despite the fact that now I really am from Cowboy Country.


On a note separate from the NFL, when I stopped to get gas on the way home, the pay-at-the-pump feature was not working, so I went inside. The cashier was just pulling a beer out of the front pocket of a would-be shoplifter, asking him why he was stealing from him. The boy didn't answer, but replied by pulling out a five-dollar bill and saying, "I'm paying for my gas." That seemed little consolation to the cashier, who said he was going to call the police. I could tell it was getting a little heated, so I took my business elsewhere. Good thing, too, because instead of $2.69/gallon, I paid "only" $2.61. Thanks for shoplifters.


Dave said...

I know how you feel Mark.. I lost interest in the NFL years ago.

My problem?

Watch old games with Larry Czonka, even OJ Simpson.. when they run with the ball, they don't dive for the yard, they put their shoulder down and plow THROUGH the opponent.
Men played the game back then.
Prima-Dona's play now.

Jim said...

I've never been a great NFL fan ... more of a college basketball person myself (KU was NCAA champion in my senior year!)

However... I do believe my first awakening of pubescent hormones occurred while watching the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, sometime back in the mid to late 70's ... Ahhh, yes... I do owe the NFL that!

Edmund said...

Having grown up in Green Bay, there is no way I could ever NOT be a pro football fan, but I share every one of Mark's frustrations with going to a pro sporting event. The hassles and costs are way too high! I much prefer going to a Friday night high school game than a Monday Night pro game.