This is the final day of my Year Without Football. I set out to last the entire 2010-2011 NFL cycle with no pro, college, or high school American football, and in doing so transformed my basic understanding of the costs of following sports at this stage in modern history. I started with the Hall-of-Fame Game in July and conclude with tonight’s NFL Draft.
In short summary, I didn’t miss the hype. At all. Excising all the unnecessary analysis and hype was extremely liberating. I was rejuvenated by the chance to follow a new sport in Australian Rules Football and experimented with team handball, while simultaneously surprising myself by subconsciously losing track of international soccer. I encountered some wonderful people who were genuinely supportive and intrigued with the endeavor, and was surprised to receive moderate media coverage, which was both satisfying and validating. After all was said and done, over 10,000 people stopped by here to see what the big deal was. That will buy quite a bit of dog food for the SPCA.
Around the time I kicked off Year Without Football, life came knocking as my wife and I became expecting parents on Day 2. On March 26, we welcomed Hollie to the world a few weeks early. The record will show that her first official televised sporting event was the incredible upset by Virginia Commonwealth, knocking off Kansas to advance to the Final Four. Hollie has watched her first Red Sox/Angels games (all Boston victories) as well as playoff hockey (Stanley Cup AND NCAA Frozen Four) plus games featuring the St. Kilda Saints (Aussie Rules).
Hollie’s arrival, I imagined, would considerably alter my viewing frequency. Wonderfully, I find that I now have a new partner to watch the games with. In the coming years, these moments may become cherished bonding memories: notches on the timeline of her childhood.
The big question of course, as the NFL appears headed to complete shutdown this season, is this: How did you do it?! As I explained my project to a class of 8th graders today, half the students projected an audible gasp when I told them of my project. They, as many still do, wonder “Is it possible?”
There’s no set path to follow; just know that it is most certainly possible. You WILL survive. Life will move on. You’ll get your weekends back during some of the colder parts of the year. Remember a few things:
1) There ARE other sports. You may toss around a joke or two about the ratings for other athletic events, but they’re still there for you. Give yourself a chance to watch a full post-season baseball game or an opening day/Winter Classic NHL game. If possible, attend a game live to reconnect with the experience. If you decide to follow another sport online, such as European Soccer or Aussie Rules Football, the best way to go about is to pick a team and follow JUST THAT TEAM. Keep it simple and familiarize yourself with their style in order to get used to the finer points of the game.
2) Plan a major project during those refunded hours. Even though the college game will continue unobstructed this season, you will find yourself with a full week-and-a-half of free time if the NFL season does not take place. Ask yourself “What have I always wanted to do that I can accomplish with an extra six-to-eight hours free a week?” The possibilities are ENDLESS.
3) Get conservative with your money. Reassess exactly how much you’re spending to watch the games you can’t see. Go with a plan to to cut back and you could actually SAVE some cash by eliminating Sports Packs or by forgoing an NFL Sunday Ticket subscription.
4) Go straight to the source. If you’re committed to following a team or league, start your browsing/daily info dump there. Go straight to the league or team’s website to catch up. You’ll be amazed how much lower your blood pressure will be once you eliminate talking heads with diversionary agendas. I can honestly say that even though I removed the voluntary parental control block for the Frozen Four, I haven’t stopped to watch a non-game telecast on the ESPN Cartel for a single minute. The urge simply isn’t there.
My modified intention headed into Super Bowl Sunday was to avoid learning the score and winner for as long as possible. That dream died the following night. While watching WWE Monday Night Raw, I witnessed Vince McMahon kick off the program by congratulating the crowd on their victory last night. As I noticed the telecast originated from Milwaukee, I knew my quest was finished. (To my credit, I lasted until this past week before learning the winner of the BCS Title Game.) I still don’t know the Packers’ margin of victory or the final score, but that will come tomorrow.
To ceremonially close the Year Without Football, I’m going to sit down and finally watch this year’s Super Bowl. Nearly 3 months later. Because I haven’t watched a game all year, I’m curious to see how out-of-touch I’ve truly been. It may be a return to reality, but I may permanently be on the outside looking in regarding my relationship with American football.
Initially, I theorized that I might go to Disneyland. Later, I contemplated a shorter day trip with my pregnant wife to the Tehachapi mountains. Eventually, I determined that the best way to steer clear of Super Bowl XLV was to treat it like any other day.
In order to properly tune out the general population’s enthusiasm over the greatest manufactured spectacle in the Americas, I had to approach it with the mindset that it was no different than any other day off. We woke up at about 10am (Pacific time) and once we were prepared for the day, we set about tending to various household and automotive duties. There was a rest period of about an hour around the time of kick-off.
I don’t think I’ve devoted nearly enough column space to Melissa’s support of Year Without Football. She could have easily dismissed my efforts as yet another fruitless pet project, but I’ve been extremely fourtunate to have a partner so supportive of a lengthy, formative project such as this. Especially, of all years, this one. Melissa’s father, as you may recall, is easily one of the top 5 Green Bay Packers fans in the Kern County area. She doesn’t remember too much about her father’s reaction the last time the Packers won the Super Bowl, a victory over the Patriots in 1997 at Super Bowl Desmond Howard (the game number ended up less consequential than Howard’s single-game performance). She had anticipated seeing how her father would react in either the affirmative or the negative. However, the labors of the pregnant life, combined with the culmination of over six months of my evasion of gridiron hype, led to the decision to make this Super Bowl Sunday a pre-family day.
In order to shield me from the results, she has filtered my access to Facebook to the point where she will be sure to close all programs before allowing me access to the computer. To a greater extent, when phoning her mother to inquire about dad’s response to the result, she told me to crank the volume in the living room up while she shut the door to the den to take the call.
The only websites I’ve visited today are my Hattrick account (a 5-0 loss to my league’s leader), a Northeastern University message board in preparation for tomorrow’s Beanpot Tournament madness vs. Harvard, and my GMail account where I received a response from Kyle Whelliston of MidMajority.com:
Thanks for forwarding me to your great site. I’ve always seen this as a solitary exercise and a game one plays against himself, the most intimidating opponent of all. It looks like you have plenty of practice this season though, so I couldn’t possibly compete on an equal level. I’ll definitely put up links to you. Some of TMM’s readers are going to take part this year as well, and the Twitter hashtag is #LastMan. Best of luck, and see you on the other side.
(…so…I win by forfeit!? Thanks for the Twitter plug! #LastMan)
As I type this, it’s approximately 1:22am EST and I am still unaware of the winner and score of Super Bowl XLV. They’ve fired off the confetti, transferred the Vince Lombardi Trophy, measured the number of nationwide flushes enacted during the halftime show, and conducted the mandatory post-game awkward interview with the losing head coach, and I’m blissfully ignorant as to the recipient of national accolades.
Go without knowing who won the Super Bowl? That’s easy for the other 6 billion people in the world who really don’t give a crap. For the other 1/7th of the world’s population, I’ll try to hold off as long as I can.
On to Beanpot Monday!
The hype machine has reached its crescendo throughout all forms of media. My attempts to limit information intake to human interaction have not stopped football feedback, simply limited its impact.
With a day to go, I wanted to document exactly how many interactions and observations occur in unlikely situations: a birthing class and an NBA D-League game.
8:50am – It didn’t take long for the unlikely encounters to begin, as NPR’s Scott Simon and Howard Bryant devoted an entire segment to game hype. I clicked off, returned five minutes, and the topic had not changed.
I’ll continue to update throughout the day to illustrate just how difficult it will be to carry on in blissful ignorance of Super Bowl XLV. (Hit F5 to refresh the page)
10:02am – The couple in front of Melissa and I are both in the spirit. Both sporting Reebok t-shirts, the wife’s got “Property of Ravens Football” and the husband is apparently “Tailgating Crew Champion.”
11:15am – A mother and expectant daughter begin planning their day for tomorrow. “Mom, do we have to go to church early before the game?”
“I hope so, I don’t want to miss the Obama/O’Reilly interview!” I get the sense that most people who get excited about these interviews truly expect anything groundbreaking have already formed their opinions before the interview even airs without realizing that these are carefully choreographed and negotiated. Then again, more people will see this than the State of the Union.
1:15pm – Before leaving birthing class, we make our way to the admission desk to pre-register. As we enter the automatic doors on the right, a couple exits on the left. The gentleman leads the way, sporting a crisp, fresh, and geographically out-of-place Buffalo Bills cap. There’s got to be a story behind it…
4:19pm: A message board pointed me in the direction of Kyle Whelliston of TheMidMajority.com, focusing on mid-major college basketball. He has apparently undertaken a tradition of attempting to be the last man in America to learn the result of the game. I have submitted to him a direct challenge on behalf of Year Without Football. It’s on, Whelliston.
5:50pm – Just as I arrived to the Jam Events Center for Bakersfield/Springfield D-League contest, I received a text from Melissa. She wanted to make a grocery run while I was working press row. “Can I do this tomorrow? This place is overrun with last-minute Super Bowl party hosts and I’m too pregnant to put up with them.” Thanks for hopping on that grenade, sweetheart!
8:02pm – Halftime at Jam City. The team runs a halftime promotion in the form of a drawing contest. The theme: “Who will win the game tomorrow?” The contestants were 10-year-olds with limited artistic abilities. The Packers logo looked like Pac-Man with head trauma.
Five days…I had five days to go. In retrospect, it’s incredible I lasted that long.
I’m now aware of the participants of this year’s Super Bowl, and when it became clear, I didn’t recoil. I was calmed by both a sense of relief and redemption…redemption that all the signals that the universe had sent me today were valid.
At approximately 7:55am, I was en route to my assignment at a junior high when I was cut off by a pickup truck, not by itself an uncommon occurrence in this town. What grabbed my attention (other than the strangely courteous and locally infrequent use of a turn signal) was the horrific and scattershot plastering of black and gold throughout the truck’s body.
Steeler Decal Overdose is a common malady in the Central Valley due the unusually high number of original Joey Porter hanger-ons from his salad days of championship glory. I thought nothing of it, but the memory lingered within reach.
Upon arriving at the school, I made my way to the teacher’s lounge to drop my lunch into the staff fridge and stumbled into an impromptu birthday celebration for the vice principal. Cake for everybody!
…this is approaching “weird” territory.
I arrive at the classroom and go over the plans for the day. The subject of this class is “Tech/Life Skills’ and once preparations commenced my fear of administering the dreaded “Birds and Bees” discussions was quickly dissipated. My task was to administer viewing of a VHS from the mid 90’s titled “Sew Cool: An Introduction to Sewing.” The video, primed as a potential MST3K short, demonstrated various methods, uses and projects intended to instill a sense of usefulness to skeptical home ec students. Students could repair torn clothing, construct pin cushions, make privacy door hangers…OHFERCHRISSAKES…
Almost immediately, the principal chimed in over the PA to remind the population that Friday was Jersey Day: wear your favorite team gear for the big game on Sunday!
The room started spinning…all of my efforts began crashing down around me…I began hearing voices…Vince Facenda…Myron Cope…Terry Bradshaw…Boomer Esiason…a 14-year-old kid…”Mr. Rossiter?”
I snapped back into clarity…someone was asking a question. “Yes, you in the back?”
“Are you voting for the Steelers or the Packers in the Super Bowl?”
My attempt to avoid knowing the participants in the Super Bowl ended five days short of the game. In a way, I’m relieved. I no longer need to continue my self-imposed social media exodus and can ease up on my sports reception blackout.
It also means I can focus on a new goal: go as long as possible without knowing the winner or score of Super Bowl XLV. I feel like I’ll have a headstart on this task; the day after the game is Lincoln’s Birthday, so no school, no water cooler smalltalk, more of a chance to isolate myself from undesired information. I don’t know if I can reach the end of Year Without Football without discovering the victor, but if I can make it to the Beanpot Championship Game on Valentine’s Day, I’ll be satisfied with my efforts.
In the meantime, I can relax, safe in the knowledge that the most difficult part will soon be in the past.
I’ve survived the first week of Super Bowl hype without being aware of the participants, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t come close…
I’ve been off Facebook for a week now. I’ve avoided ESPN all year and the only sports I’ve had the time to take in was the NHL Skills Competition. I’ve had to keep my eyes pointed to the ground while walking through the supermarket so as to avoid seeing Super Bowl decorations and mylar balloons featuring the participating cities. I’ve been keeping myself busy with work, reading (a long-overdue second excursion through the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series) and a steady stream of Netflix viewings and Gamefly rentals and baby classes for Hollie.. I’m starting to build myself up for the first round of the Beanpot versus Harvard on February 7th, but that’s still about 8 days away.
The immediate future holds yet another annual source of entertainment: the Royal Rumble.
It’s been made overtly clear over the duration of this experiment that I’m a wrestling geek. I started following at a young age, waking up to “WWF Wrestling Challenge” on Saturday mornings through the local Fox affiliate leading up to my Pay-Per-View, the 1991 Royal Rumble. I had already begun following sports, and I still hadn’t made the connection of predetermination in pro wrestling; it still looked legitimate to 9-year-old me. The WWF Championship match piqued my curiosity further. I was fascinated by the fact that with all the advances in video technology and instant replay, Macho Man Randy Savage could hit the Ultimate Warrior in the head with a scepter and allow Sergeant Slaughter to win the title without review.
But the true captivation was the Main Event itself: the Royal Rumble Match.
Here’s the premise: 30 wrestlers are entered into the match and are assigned a random entry number. The entrants who “draw” #s 1 and 2 enter the ring and begin the match. A new entrant joins the fray every 90 seconds. Elimination only occurs when A) a wrestler is thrown over the top rope and B) both feet touch the floor. After all entrants have entered the ring, the last person standing is declared the winner.
Aside from the notoriety gained from winning the match, the victor earns an automatic spot in the main event championship match at that year’s WrestleMania, the marquee event on the calendar. Therefore, the match itself is usually seen as a launching pad for the upper echelon of performers. It marks the start of the long stretch of storylines leading up to the industry’s big “season finale”, the culmination of an entire year’s work. The stage is great, recently expanding to large football and baseball stadiums.
The great irony is that the results, of course, are all predetermined. I’ve known this for decades and yet I’ve remained intrigued by the spectacle. Pro wrestling often plays out significant social conflicts, much in the same sense that traditional Greek theater did several thousand years ago. The characters are crafted, then allowed to grow organically, such that the aware viewer still has an opportunity to develop affinity or disdain for certain performers. As a mature, aware, wrestling fan, you still get surprised and excited by the twists and turns and you still want to see certain performers “excel.”
The Royal Rumble offers this in spades. Over the course of 20 years, developments in the Rumble have challenged the rules (Shawn Michaels winning because only ONE foot touched the floor, Bret Hart and Lex Luger touching the floor at the exact same time, Steve Austin and Vince McMahon leaving the ring through the middle ropes only to return at the end). The size of the field has offered a number of returns, both younger wrestlers returning from lengthy injuries and older favorites who spark nostalgia. The duration and size of the event lends itself to statistical distinctions from most eliminations in a match (Kane with 11 in 2001) to single match durations (Longest: 1 hour, 2 minutes, 10 seconds by Rey Mysterio in 2006. Shortest: 1 second by Santino Marella in 2009).
Because of the match’s status as a springboard, there’s a surprising amount of parity. Over the past 12 years, there have been 12 victors.
I’ve always found it to be a great value. Much of the time, sporting events just don’t live up to the hype. Part of the appeal of pro wrestling, even in my older years, is that you’re almost guaranteed a payoff for your emotional investment. As long as you go in with the mindset of any other scripted form of entertainment, you can appreciate it for what it is; an athletic exhibition supplemented with narrative.
And it’s in Boston this year; significant not only to myself (I attended a show in 2000 featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin in a steel cage match, Triple H versus Kurt Angle, and The Rock vs. Chris Jericho. The card holds up incredibly well a decade later), but because of the building’s wrestling legacy. The New Garden hosted Wrestlemania 14, where Austin defeated Shawn Michaels with Mike Tyson as the guest referee. It was Austin’s first title and the start of the post-Hogan renaissance. The seeds for that match were sewn earlier in the year at the Rumble match, won by Austin.
After the Rumble, the winner goes to WrestleMania. I go to Super Bowl Sunday, the final week of avoiding hype; the climax of the Year Without Football. The past week was the preview; the most intense onslaught is on its way.
Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been as connected with the ebbs and tides of this NFL season, but the potential for a Jets/Packers Super Bowl may place undue complications on my personal quest to survive through Super Bowl Sunday.
As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in Staten Island, New York and still have strong connections with friends and family back there. Staten Island is usually considered up-for-grabs country, an even mix of Giants and Jets fans with a noticeable third-party helping of Cowboys bandwagoneers on standby. But when one team’s success rises above the other, the momentum shifts drastically.
The cross-sport alignment of these fans is pretty well established; Giants fans are mainly Yankees fans and Jets fans are usually Mets fans. Because of this unfortunate alignment, the suffering of Jets fans is often compounded by the annual disappointments brought about during baseball season. Therefore, when the Jets make a run for glory, their fans go all out. More green clothes, flags on houses and cars, brazen display of memorabilia and blatant attempts at overloading the bandwagon. I specifically remember an instance in high school where the established Jets fans raided a promotions closet at a sponsored tailgate event and brought the goods to school, passing out green plastic fireman hats to each and every under- and upperclassman.
The general populace has been lucky enough to avoid a Jets Super Bowl scenario for over 40 years now; it would be near impossible to hold a conversation with anyone from the New York area without discussing football if they pick up a win over the Steelers today. Steelers fans are insufferable enough, but at least it’s somewhat supported by both distant and recent legacies of success.
But that’s just on one side of the brackets…on the other side is the potential for an even more immediate threat: a father-in-law on Cloud Nine. If you’ll remember from the early days of Year Without Football, Melissa’s father is a Cheesehead, to the level of attempting to indoctrinate our unborn daughter through gifts of clothing. The only time I actually watched an entire game this year was a situation where I didn’t want to be rude at his house.
A two-week period where hometown Jets euphoria collides with family Packers elation…and I’d be caught in the middle trying to maintain a friendly face while shouting “LALALAICANTHEARYOU!” with my fingers in my ears and my eyes tightened shut.
This might be one of those weekends where my uncle used to pray for “Mutual Spontaneous Human Combustion”: a cosmic intervention where neither of the destined participants are guaranteed victory.
My goal for the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl is to remain oblivious to the participants.
My goal for the days following is to avoid discovering a winner, score, or MVP.
The steps I’ve taken so far in the Year Without Football need to be amplified even further to accomplish this. I plan on taking a pretty drastic step in restricting Facebook viewing all together. I had anticipated limiting Facebook status access from certain blocks of people: those in the sports and media industries (accounting for 31% of my Facebook acquaintances), those from the New York area anticipating a Jets victory (just over 20%) and college or local friends who have exhibited football-status tendencies (another 13%). After taking this informal inventory of interpersonal relationships, I discovered that a full 36% of my online connections are people I rarely see post, haven’t heard from in years, or simply “doubles” in cases where the person has abandoned one account in favor of another. I couldn’t risk the potential for a “sleeper agent” in that 36%. Starting tomorrow, at 11:59pm, I’m off of Facebook and Twitter until 2pm February 7th.
Why that time on the day after the Super Bowl? Faceoff for the annual New England masochistic rite of post-secondary passage: the Beanpot Tournament.
Once I make it to Beanpot Monday, I’m homefree from football.
I’m also handing over control of the remote to Melissa; in an unprecedented move, I will willfully cede any objections to programming. Sure, it’s a goodwill gesture to a pregnant wife who’s been an incredible motivator. It’s a shrewd investment: I know she won’t go anywhere near mention of the Super Bowl because her station is carrying the game itself (prepare for cross-promotion overload!). I will suffer the necessary penance of innumerous showings of “House Hunters” and “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant/Dead/in a Toddler Pageant” in order to make it through this difficult season.
I’ll still be able to receive messages through the online outlets but due to my personal connections to the fanbases of the potential matchups, I’ll have to pull back into digital seclusion for the better part of two weeks. I’m eager to watch others mired in Super Bowl hype, and I don’t mind saying that I absolutely won’t miss the annual inanities that the extra bye week brings. No “Video Game Simulation to See Who Will Win” for me this year. No “Random Spanish-Language Costumed Correspondent at Media Day.” No “See the Commercials BEFORE the Big Game!” No “7-Hour Pre-Game Show starring Meaningless B-Team Broadcaster Awards, Performance by Anonymous Teeny-Bop Singer and Battered 70s Act, Low Info Reports from the Team Hotel, and Generic and Kinda Insulting Salute to the Troops!”
The question remains, however, what to do on Super Bowl Sunday itself? I’d hate to waste a National Couch Potato Day on the computer or on XBox Live. I mentioned to KBAK in an interview that I might visit Disneyland, but I’m not sure that my pregnant wife would be perceptive to a 5-hour round-trip drive with a full day of walking to rides she can’t enjoy.
What to do…? Please feel free to send me any suggestions.