Monday, September 13, 2010
On the Impending Demise of the NFL. Or Not.
There are times when the National Football League scares me a little.
Don't get me wrong. I will watch any football game, anywhere, at any time of day. And while my preference tends toward college football, I am a heterosexual American male between the ages of 18 and 64, and therefore understand it is my civic duty to spend Sunday afternoons in the fall obsessively checking the Jacksonville Jaguars injury report on NFL.com, because I have paid one hundred dollars for the privilege of choosing an imaginary team of players whose results are dictated by an arbitrary scoring system, and whose ups and downs somehow manage to dictate my daily mood.* Given that the NFL is perhaps the most universally popular corporate entity in our nation's history, it's hard to imagine it ever not being such. This is one reason it scares me: The NFL is so unbelievably huge, so obscenely powerful, so dynamically slick, that it seems like we are only two decades from being separated into classes based on our knowledge of the Tampa 2 defense.
But then I wonder whether perhaps I am exaggerating a little. I wonder if perhaps this moment, right now, is the most popular the NFL will ever be. I am wondering if we are witnessing the zenith of the Roman empire. I am wondering if this could be the NFL's last season as the most dominant sports cabal on the planet. I am wondering if in ten years, Super Bowl officials will be begging Superchunk to play their halftime show.
Most likely, I'm being crazy**. But, as Mike Freeman points out here, the NFL is facing a tumultuous offseason. A lockout appears imminent. Ticket prices are through the (domed) roof. Dissent is growing. These are all major factors, but this is not what scares me most about the NFL, either; what scares me most about the NFL was made manifestly clear while watching the Eagles-Packers game on Sunday afternoon.
There was a period during that game when it seemed like someone was getting hurt on every play. Out went the Eagles' quarterback, Kevin Kolb. Out went the Packers' running back, Ryan Grant. And out went the Eagles linebacker, Stewart Bradley, who stood up after a hit, walked three steps, and then drunkenly tumbled to the grass. Clearly, he had a concussion, and while the NFL insists its getting serious about concussions--and while I have no reason not to believe them--there is a moment like this in every NFL game, a moment when you sit on your couch, watching your 56-inch high-definition three-dimensional televisual device, and you think to yourself, It is inherently inhuman for men to collide like this. And then DeSean Jackson makes a one-handed catch behind his back, and you forget all about it. But it's there, and it's most apparent on Sundays, and it's getting to be harder and harder to forget.
It's impossible to imagine an America without the mythology of professional football, without mud and dirt and helmets colliding and bodies sprawled in the grass. Then again, forty-five years ago, Don Draper's entire evening hinged on the results of a heavyweight fight. That seems like as much a relic of the Mad Men era as the notion of smoking during pregnancy, another pastime that doctors declared too unhealthy for humans to practice.
*All of which is to say--without delving into the most boring topic any American male can ever bring up--that my fantasy team is absolutely horrible. This is what happens when you attempt to choose your roster via IPhone from a wedding reception.
**Superchunk would never play halftime.