By Bill Ribas
Before we get too deeply into this, I have to admit I have fallen out of favor of the NFL. It happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, around the time that players started dancing in the endzone after catching a pass, celebrating like it was VJ day. The more I noticed it, the more it bothered me, and, like passing a car wreck on the highway, I became even more entangled in the game, if only to point out that, yes, I was right, that guy did look like an idiot, and all he did was catch the ball. On top of this, for a while I was working in a convenience store, and the morning shift on Sundays was filled with a legion of half-witted, hung over sports analysts, the kind that would buy a cup of coffee, complain about the weather, and then talk about how the Bills were going to win. They would always try to get me pumped up, like we were supposed to do the wave together or something, and I know this because when I was less than enthusiastic, I’d get cutting looks, statements of incredulity (“How can you not like the Bills?”), and usually there’d be no customers behind this fanatic, so the discomfort would continue to build. I’d stare at those horrid balloon pants they would be wearing, either with some sort of Bills logo, or camouflage, or some zebra stripe nonsense (so they’d blend in with the veld, of course), and wish for the lottery winnings I knew I was due.
Add to this the average NFL tee vee announcer was either deadly dull, or extremely excitable, and often with a grating voice, and, well, I checked out. I missed the simplicity of awe that I had when I was a kid, of guys like Deacon Jones, and how scary he seemed. Maybe I didn’t notice the commercialism, or other aspects of the game that added nothing. I was a kid. Cut me some slack.
Yet recently I can be found on the couch Sundays, trying to ease my way back into the game. I still don’t understand the fanfare, and I can’t imagine what gets a guy like Chris Berman all jacked up and on the verge of a heart attack every week. Maybe it’s the violent aspect, although if you want violence, you can go down the line through boxing and hockey and rugby, or hey, just cut to the chase and go straight to cagefighting. Maybe it’s the brightly colored uniforms. who knows. No point in going too deep on this point anyway (hey, that’s two points! I got a safety!)
What has really got me going this year is just how many teams, well, simply put, stink. A quick glance I did shows that if you add up the basement dwellers in all divisions, you come up with a remarkable 7-46 record, which comes out to about a 13% winning percentage. St. Louis, Tampa, and Tennessee are all winless. Winless? Yes, winless. The bright lights in the basement are the Dolphins and the Redskins, each with the number 2 in the win column. You can bet alcohol sales are all up in those cities, with a spike on Sundays.
But the basement dwellers can rest consoled, albeit lightly, because some second to last place teams have just as awful records. Carolina, Oakland, and Seattle, for example, all boast the number 2 in their win columns. A while back, I remember when Tampa Bay tanked all season. It was a glorious ride, because by watching, most people hoped they would lose their next game. Kind of like anti-cheering. And in a somewhat sick and twisted way, it was fun to watch, almost like a movie where a bomb is set to go off, and you see the timer, and the people trying to find it and defuse it. But with Tampa Bay’s season, it was a new movie every week. I remember the same feelings when Northwestern went on an 0-34 tear. I had a friend at a bar who every Friday would be hoping and cheering that the team would lose another game, and they did, over and over. Oh, and he was crushed when they did win.
Personally, it’s more fun pulling for a team to lose, than to get all tense and hope for a team to win. We’ve all been crushed by bad calls, bad plays, mental mishaps and the like, and when it happens late in the game, and your team loses what looked to be an easy victory, it can make you miserable. The flip side though, is by pulling for the losers to lose, you can’t lose. Why? Because if they do lose, you can rest happy, knowing that the team’s inability to win creates a perfection of sorts. So inept, such bad coaching, they can’t do anything but lose. And should the team wipe the goose egg from the win column, well, then they really do stink, because what else could you say about a team that is 1-7?
I may not come back to the NFL full time, cemented on the couch with a bag of chips and more than a few beers, but I think it’s safe to say I can be lured back to watch some awful teams slug it out. While Sunday is half over, and I have seen bits and pieces of Buffalo’s demise (they’re not so bad that they really stink, but they’re not good, and the finger pointers haven’t stopped in one spot just yet. But whoa, they were not good when I was looking that way today), I can hope that the three winless teams still hold onto their winless records.
It’s extremely hard to excel in one area – take a look at a player like Michael Jordan, for example – but the flip side of that is, everyone can be mediocre. To suck, to be really bad, to be so bad that winning is not an option, no matter how hard you try, well, that takes the same amount of dedication and practice that MJ endured, it’s just things don’t turn out so well. And so to be so bad that you’ve perfected bad, put a nice glossy sheen on it, that deserves as much adulation as the winner of the Super Bowl. Why? Imagine you and a friend are running from here to say, Buffalo. You both expend the same energy, try just as hard, but when he crosses the finish line in Buffalo, you’re in Syracuse. How did it happen? No one knows, but it’s still a beautiful thing.