Another football season has come, and almost gone, with college having ended a full month ago with the satisfying defeat of Smuggy McSmuggerson and the Alabama team he coaches, high school before that, and the NFL tonight with one of the most grandiose rituals in all of American sport. I enjoy the Super Bowl, of course, but it marks a finish line that I’m never excited to cross. What is it about football, the thirst I cannot seem to slake, and how, come tomorrow, will I survive again until the fall?
The weather helps, most certainly. As grass gets green and the sun becomes both warmer and more consistent, the lengthened days offer sanctuary — the same sanctuary that football perhaps offers from the harsh winters where I live. And yet, there’s something else that makes the thought of the coming hiatus more tolerable, survival more tenable, and that’s the fact that I cheer for two teams whose fall from greatness have taken on the form of great Greek epics.
For their part, my beloved Huskers have never stopped trying, and I continue to cheer for them week in and week out. Their leaders have looked like everything from Caesar getting stabbed in the back (Frank Solich) to an angry bridge troll, preventing success while gripping a gnarled club in his wart-covered hand and snarling at recruits, scaring them away (Bo Pelini). Today, they are led by a man with a warm smile, a man we’d all love to have around the Thanksgiving table and who, to his credit, got us ranked as high as #8 in the polls this year on the wings of a 7-game winning streak… before those wings got shot off and we spiraled out of control, going 2-4 to end the season unranked and demoralized, capping it off with another bowl defeat. Riley’s noteworthy kindness, integrity, bright recruiting class, and the strides we did make this year are enough that he has my support, but Nebraska is notoriously unkind to those who don’t win games (literally all the games), and my hope is that he’ll at least be given the chance to string together a few more seasons.
And this brings me to the NFL, where Huskers have lately made the news for all the wrong reasons, and where my other team, the Kansas City Chiefs, has gotten just enough better under Andy Reid to make a consistent playoff cameo year in and year out, if not really contend for a shot at all the marbles. Granted, Alex Smith’s poor dodgeball playing performance at the Pro Bowl may be indicative of a larger problem, but when you don’t really need Jamaal Charles to establish a running game, and when Jeremy Maclin is your team’s third if not fourth best wideout, the promise and potential are undeniable. And yet, the Super Bowl never ceases to remind me that we got Joe Montana and Marcus Allen a few years too late, and that the Chiefs haven’t been a relevant contender to win a Super Bowl since the days of Len Dawson, and when counting in roman numerals seemed silly (I, II, III…).
This afternoon, Sonja, Titus, and I will load up the car only because it’s cold outside, and make the short drive to the house of some neighbor-friends for dinner, undoubtedly some political discourse, and of course, the Super Bowl. On the fight card tonight, as you’re certainly aware, are the “Dirty Birds” of Atlanta, a team whose quarterback and running back were only good enough to get me second place in my fantasy football league, and the New England Patriots, who waffle between being the extraordinary team that stands to win a fifth championship in the Brady-Belicek era, and the loathsome band of cheaters who deflate footballs to their advantage, destroy cell phones as evidence, associate with the evil warlords of the world (where is that fourth ring again, Mr. Kraft?) and do it all while wearing cut-off sweatshirts just in case you got the mistaken impression for even one moment that any of them gave a sh-t about what you or anyone else might think.
So tonight, my investment in the game is minimal. I’ll enjoy spending time with my family and our friends, and I’m especially looking forward to the commercials. (If you haven’t seen the one Budweiser released already, depicting their founder coming to America as an immigrant, brace yourself!) I’ll be drinking a nice bottle of wine, a tribute to the late, great Derrick Thomas from Daylight Wine Co., as with friends and family we celebrate the passing of another year, as marked by a calendar known only to zealots like ourselves. Of course, I’ll be cheering against the Patriots, like most of the rest of America outside of Boston. (We don’t like you either, Yankees, just to be clear.) And most of all, I’ll raise a glass with friends to yet another football season gone by, and to our unbridled and unwarranted optimism that next season will surely be better.