Love Me NFL
It's August 18th and I have the NFL on my mind. I was also thinking about the NFL July 18th and June 18th...
In truth, the NFL (National Football League) of American Football (for the benefit of my international readers) is on my mind every month of the year. It's hard to blame me with ESPN running NFL Tonight year-round. For a regular season that is only 4 months long, the NFL impressively gets the majority of the American sports coverage. And it's hard to blame the media for covering the NFL so extensively, with 31% of sports-following Americas claiming it as their favorite and second place MLB getting 16%.
But I wonder why I care so much about the NFL. Maybe it's because football is played in the fall, and fall is my favorite season. Another reason I love the NFL could be a deep rooted mental association with heavy fall food staples such as chili, stews, smoked ribs, and cheese. But there is something else about me that should be considered: My NFL past.
In real life I have a wonderful family now, and I was raised in normal, loving fashion by my biological parents who are still married. I thankfully escaped childhood without actual trauma. But my budding Fanhood (the fan as a person) was rocked by betrayal and abandonment. Indeed, my Fanhood is dysfunctional.
Even as I write this blog post and remember my 8 year old Fanhood, I sense latent pain. The pain memory triggers new anger with the NFL. I ask, "Why do I even care about you? You were so bad to me!" I repeat: My Fanhood is dysfunctional. The NFL should not have a place in my heart.
Most football fans realize they like football at some young age and then pull for their team the rest of their lives. It's simple: If at any point during the fan's life their football team should win, they become happy. If they lose, fans become sad. But what about the football fan who discovered a love and passion for a team at age 7, but that team left his city by the time he was 12? And what if a new team moves to his town when he's 19?
I remember sitting in Sunday School thinking about the St. Louis Cardinals (we called this team the "football Cardinals" to avoid confusion with the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team) games. I was 8 years old in 1984, the year my heart broke. Looking back, oh how pathetic it seems. I was this chubby kid daydreaming about Neil Lomax completing passes to Roy Green instead of watching a skit about John the Baptist. The football Cardinals weren't any good most years, and were pretty good occasionally. In 1984 the football Cardinals were pretty good.
Certainly there are thousands of football Cardinals fans who would count me as lucky that I wasn't put through the years of harebrained team ownership that caused bad team after bad team. In the 28 years the football Cardinals played in St. Louis, they made the playoffs three times and didn't win any of them. There was a brief, three year run in the early 80's of consecutive winning seasons. And this is when I discovered that I loved the football Cardinals. I have no memory of watching the football Cardinals playing at home in Busch Stadium, the Astro-turfed venue they shared with the baseball team. This is because the football Cardinals rarely sold out so the local broadcast was usually blacked out. I remember looking forward specifically to the away games so I could actually see the game and not be forced to listen to them on KMOX. I should point out that a healthy, growing Fanhood would actually look forward to home games because they are much more festive, the fans on TV cheer when you cheer, and dad might actually take you to a game. Self-loathing is essential to dysfunctional Fanhoods.
So I remember on Sunday December 16th, 1984 chatting up the football Cardinals with other kids at church, about how if they won today they would make the playoffs. I was excited. It was the last game of the season against the division powerhouse Redskins. I also remember very few, if any other kids actually matching my level of enthusiasm. I didn't know a single person in my family, church or school who cared about the football Cardinals like I did. I remember a classmate--Sarah Moore--in 6th grade telling me about her father, a Cardinals season ticket owner and how crazy he was about the team. I remember wishing I could meet this great man. But, of course, I could not. Isolation is a key ingredient to a dysfunctional Fanhood.
I don't remember a whole lot of the game--only that it was very close. I do remember how it ended. Neil O'Donoghue missed a field goal as time expired and the Cards lost by two points: 27-29. Neil O'Donoghue should have never been employed in the NFL in 1984. His lifetime field goal percentage was under 60%, hitting 112 of 189 attempts. That is very bad, yet the football Cardinals employed him for years. In 1983 his famously missed three field goals in overtime and the game ended in a tie. He was dreadful. Neil O'Donoghue missed the field goal that would have validated my lonely enthusiasm. Misplaced blame is a pillar of dysfunctional Fanhood.
The game lost, I was devastated. I remember visiting my dad in the cold while he repaired something on our front porch. He didn't know what to say to me, so I'm pretty sure he used the old standard, "The Cardinals are worthless." I felt like crying but I knew I couldn't do that. The first sting of your team disappointing you is the most painful. You grow callouses that help you for future disappointments. The silver lining from the games outcome was that I knew better how to deal with the baseball Cardinals World Series losses in 1985 and 1987.
I continued to follow the Cardinals crappy season after crappy season. In 1987 I remember walking around my grandparents' church in Southwest Missouri after the service asking adults which channel the Cardinals game might be on, as I was unfamiliar with the lineup. I walked up to my Grandfather and interrupted him in mid conversation with another elder, pointed to him and said, "The Cardinals game may be on channel 3 out of Joplin." He just looked at me like I was ridiculous and continued his conversation. This is one of the few conversations I even remember having with my grandfather. Genius football Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell moved the team to Phoenix in 1988. After all those seasons of luring me in, grooming me as a young lad to be a faithful NFL devotee, the football Cardinals betrayed and abandoned me. They left me with nothing but Phoenix Cardinals games each week on the television, wasting my viewing time on Vai Sikahema when I should have been tuned in to a real football franchise. Of all the NFL teams in all the cities in America, I had to live in one that moved their team. They left me with nothing. Abandonment is foundational to a dysfunctional Fanhood.
In 1995 the Los Angeles Rams announced they were moving to St. Louis, who had built a dome stadium for the purposes of obtaining another NFL franchise through expansion (no thanks to idiot Paul Tagliabue for sending a new team to beautiful Jacksonville, FL) or relocation. The St. Louis Post Dispatch had a special edition paper with Jerome Bettis (first a Ram before experiencing glory with the Steelers) on the front page announcing the move was official. My parents sent me a copy of the paper to me in college. I was kinda happy. The Rams were kinda my team now. I followed the Rams through the Chris Miller and Tony Banks eras. They won the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner following the 1999 season, and I was finally NFL-happy. But I felt at the time that I didn't deserve to be thrilled. This wasn't the team of my youth. Shame is another element in a dysfunctional Fanhood.
My Fanhood dysfunction reached a boiling point in 2008. Last season I experienced some Fanhood confusion. You see, after a few years of the Rams being worse than mediocre and only 12 total years of modest interest in the team, my wandering eyes found the San Diego Chargers. They seemed to be on every week here on the West coast and they had some really good players. I bought a shirt to see how it felt to wear another team's colors. I even told some close friends that I was thinking of converting. This news was met with ridicule, as it should have been. You can't just change teams. But sometimes I look at the Cleveland Browns and think, "It might be fun to be a Browns fan." I've considered the Kansas City Chiefs because I've known a lot of Chiefs fans and maybe I could cheer with them in case they ever have success.
Sometimes its hard to understand why victims of domestic violence return to their partners. It's painful to see an abused dog come limping home. It's amazing how certain people divorce and marry over and over, confused as to why they have trouble with intimacy but continually wanting it. And here I am self-loathing, isolated, blaming, abandoned, shamed, and fan-confused by the NFL, and yet still wanting it's sweet embrace.
Love me NFL. I'll be a good Rams fan. Just stay here forever.