Monday, September 19, 2011

Glory on the Gridiron (The Day After)

I just went one year without any NFL football. No preseason, no 16-game schedule, no playoffs, no Super Bowl.  As Van Winkle, I "slept" through it all.

To some this might sound like a hardship. But here's the deal...

I'm not that monster-size football fan that almost single-handedly supports the beer companies and cable TV. You know the type. He has to know the results of all the games and he watches three games on Sunday and doesn't miss Monday or Thursday nights either.

And he is a he.

Still, I dabble in football-watching the way I dabble in other things. I show up in front of the TV screen at opportune moments, hoping to be rewarded by some feat between the hash marks that suddenly shoots adrenaline to my brain, which then tells my vocal cords and tongue to go to work:


Which is what happened in the fourth quarter of the Oakland at Buffalo game yesterday.

I was semi-watching (okay, dabbling massively) on the couch, trying to mark a few student assignments from my Fiction Workshop. I had already seen the J-Lo Fiat commercial three times too many. This ad heralds the coming of a teeny-tiny but cool two-door car to America.

Ms. Lopez, so made-up and digitally retouched that she more resembles a polished piece of plastic than human flesh, overshadowed the whole thing. Especially when I made the mistake of turning off the mute and I heard the singing. Cue the robots, please...


There...that's better.

One thing I realized after no TV for a year is how eye-poppingly great HD TV looks when one is watching the action unfold on the field. Whenever there was a close-up on a player I could see the sparklies in the silver paint of the Raiders' helmet. Grass stains on pants. Fantastic detail on the tattooed biceps.

Football is eye candy.

Since I had missed 3/4 of the game I didn't know that the Raiders (8-8 last year) had blown a 21-3 halftime lead. The plucky Bills, who many said were better than last year's dismal team that lost their first 8 games before going 4-4, were on a tear with three unanswered touchdowns.

Then I woke up on the couch. This is one of those moments when all the dull penalties, the runs up the middle for no gain, the worse than useless necktie comentating, and even those interruptive J-Lo moments go away.

Buffalo has just scored minutes earlier to go ahead 31-28. The Oakland quarterback drops back and he heaves a pass 50 yards. Churning toward the goal line is rookie Denarius Moore. Mr. Moore has two Buffalo defenders on him. He gets a step on one, the other is gnawing his collar bone as he goes up and snags the ball and falls into the end zone with the defender atop him. Mr. Moore lands holding the ball.

Amazing catch! Oakland scores!

But we're not quite finished because the Bills will march down the field, helped by foolish Oakland face masking and pass interference penalties. The Bills will survive a fourth and 3 on the Oakland 24 yard line and at that point I knew they weren't going to be denied.

Sure enough they scored with 16 seconds left. There was time for three more Raider plays. The last one (6 seconds remaining) was a Hail Mary heave into the end zone. Multiple hands belonging to three Bills and one Raider grasped in the air for the ball. As they came down it appeared that both a Bill and a Raider were holding the ball? No. When they hit the ground, Buffalo had intercepted. End of game. Bills win it 38-35.

Is this a typical NFL game? Hardly. But it does represent the kind of sports drama I missed out on last season when I was Van Winkled.

Yesterday's game reminds me why I'll always watch some sports. Unlike the rest of the news, sports are reliable. If you watch enough games, something GOOD, something memorable, something that makes you for a moment feel "Yes!" always happens.

The rookie makes the impossible catch!

Maybe there are other ready-made communal spectacles that can reliably deliver this kind of thing, but right now, the morning after my Sunday "fix," this guy is having a hard time thinking of any.

Football, baseball, basketball, golf. All of them offer a peculiarly American Sunday afternoon liturgy. The people show up and watch the ritual performed over and over again. They know that at some point it's quite likely they will briefly touch the transcendent. When that happens they find themselves cheering for something beyond their smallish, seemingly insignificant lives.

I know exactly what it feels like.

And, if I partake via TV, all this comes with minimal or no cost to me, other than time invested. It seems like a pretty good deal...

That's why I'm not surprised that so many people worship in front of large screens, and the stadiums dwarf our churches. And heaven? Isn't that another name for making it into the end zone? Nothing but net from outside the arc? Home run in the bottom of the ninth? The eighteeen foot putt?

Maybe not. You see, it's all so brief. And in the end it may not work out like you expected. Ask Denarius Moore, ask the Oakland Raiders. I think those gentlemen will tell you. - A.H.

Sorry, Denarius. Even though you pointed heavenward and the score changed
seconds later to OAK 35 BUF 31, your team went on to lose.


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