My buddy, whom I affectionately refer to as Mumbles due to his inability to communicate verbally, once told me that the NFL is like a religion. Thinking about it, as I watch two of the best quarterbacks in the league take each other on in the first game of the pre-season, he’s probably not far off the truth. Now, I’m not saying Roger Goodell is some kind of God (though some may argue this). But the NFL, like religion for so many others, has changed my life. I have embraced it into my daily routine, yet it exists primarily on a different continent, and I, among (I imagine) many others, take the NFL Network as some sort of gospel. Yet it isn’t really even a sport! At grassroots level, I’m sure it is. But the National Football League isn’t sport. It’s entertainment. It’s consumer-driven. Players are bought and sold like goods on a shelf, and get paid RIDICULOUS sums of money – and even that doesn’t guarantee top-quality performance. Primarily, it’s a BUSINESS, and human greed at its finest. Being a fan of the NFL goes against every one of my moral fibers.
Then why the fuck can I not get enough of it?!
It began with Madden. Oh, Madden. How I wasted away my second semester of 2011 on thee. I hate to think how many hours of Madden I’ve clocked up this year. If I knew it was going to be like this, I never would have touched it. At first, I was drawn in by the difficulty of learning the basics of the game. It was a challenge, and I couldn’t consider myself a gamer unless I at least gave it a go. Plus, it was my flatmate’s game, and he reckoned he kicked ass. Challenge Accepted.
I only had to do one thing: pick a team. 32 teams. Forget conferences and divisions. That’s a lot of teams! I picked the New York Jets, because other than the Green Bay Packers, they were the only team I had heard of*. After a few games, we weren’t really getting along. The most exciting thing about that Jets team was me yelling “SIONE POUHAAAAAA” every time he made a play. That, and for some reason I was drawn to Mark Sanchez. Ha. Mark Sanchez.
*I think I know why I didn’t pick the Packers. I had a friend at primary school that was a Packers fan. Years later, on Facebook, I read a post from him after their Superbowl win (I didn’t play Madden until about April 2011) complaining about bandwagon-jumpers. This must have been playing on my subconscious at the time of my first game.
Then I met Sam.
As far as Madden goes, Sam Bradford and I were meant to be together. I had no idea who he was before seeing him on the Rams roster. But he was a rookie. He was a number 1 overall pick. AND HE SHARED MY NAME! Further research led me to discover that he was a Heisman Trophy winner and had just come off a Rookie of the Year season. And to top it off, he is one handsome young devil. No homo. What was not to like? I had found my favourite player. Also, and far more importantly, I had found my favourite team. I was a Rams fan.
I’ve since discovered how terrible the Rams are. Despite that, and their apparent unwillingness to fill the gaping holes in their roster, they’re still my favourite team. Because of this, it has given me some sort of identity. In the NFL community, I am a Rams fan. And like cripples, downies and crackheads, different people within that community are going to treat me in different ways. For example, Mumbles is a Seahawks fan, so it goes without saying that our rivalry exists every day. While we don’t express it, it’s there, and it creates that little rift of separation between our friendship, but not enough to cause any permanent damage. But there are two days in every calendar year where best buddies become bitter rivals. The winner tastes not only victory, but a one-up on the loser in the Divisional standing. The loser will mostly likely challenge the winner to a game of Madden to try and even the scores.
Now that the season is almost upon us, my love for Madden has now turned into an addiction to actual football (which takes soooooooooo much longer). To the point where I plan to watch every pre-season and regular season game in condensed format, and every Rams game of the season in full. That’s at least 10 hours a week that I’m committing to watching the games. That’s not taking into account analysis, news, Sports Science, articles better than this one, and anything else the NFL Network has to offer my football-hungry eyes. I’ve avoided study, and am currently avoiding sleep, because of football.
This is not to say I am the epitome of NFL fandom. Not at all. I’m a rookie when it comes to following the NFL. While I watched a few games last season, this will be the first full season that I will follow from the start. I know I have a long road ahead of me, filled with triumph, heartbreak, anger, disappointment, bewilderment, and any other emotion you can think of. Last week, my Rams were on the wrong end of a blowout against a team that went 2-14 last year+. Does it phase me? A little. Am I still excited for their next game? Hell yeah. Do I think they’ll win? It’s pre-season, so I really don’t care.
+ It’s worth noting here that Andrew Luck is the Sam Bradford of 2012, minus the Heisman Trophy. If I started following the NFL now, I imagine there’s every chance I could be a Colts fan. To lose to him is acceptable, given the state of St Louis’ defense. Atrocious.
They say pre-season is a time for optimism and high expectations. In that case, for me everyday feels like pre-season cause dammit, I love this game.