There’s a period of time, beginning the Monday after the Super Bowl—which, let’s be real, should be a national holiday—and continuing through Labor Day, that some might forget the joy that is football. The National Football League, now in its 51st year of the Super Bowl era, is often as mired in controversy and disappointment as it is in simple discussion of the sport itself. We’re finally getting to the end of nearly two full years of debate and court cases about slightly deflated footballs.
There are issues with the game, unquestionably, which aren’t to be taken lightly. Domestic violence among players is a serious concern, and as the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy cases have shown, the obvious solution—getting rid of them—is unfortunately the road less traveled. Concussions in the NFL are an epidemic, and over the past several seasons steps have been taken—although, as the conclusion of Thursday night’s season debut showed, clearly there still have not been enough—to improve the problem. There is a melodramatic Will Smith movie, books, and documentaries that focus on the issue, and yet it persists.
And in the face of it all, it’s easy, once again, to forget why the game itself, at base, is still the best. After a season opener on Thursday between the Carolina Panthers and the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos that felt like the tiniest taste of a delicious meal, yesterday’s full slate of games was like being exposed to an endless buffet of whatever delicious and mouth-watering food your brain and stomach might crave. They may not have been conscious of how much they really missed it, but by the time 1:00pm hit on Sunday, it was clear. For a few hours on Sunday, we could forget about the sport’s pitfalls, and just enjoy the game.
Fantasy Football plays a huge role in the excitement of having the season back. Not only do those of us that dive head-first into NFL fandom choose a team to unabashedly follow—the Jets wasted no time yesterday with their decision to toy with my weak little heart—but we also draft and select our own teams of individual players. This gives an excuse to not only care about the result of what our hand-selected favorite teams do, but also to follow teams around the league, a potential investment in every single game being played. I, born and raised in Northern New Jersey and currently living in New York City, watched on the edge of my seat yesterday as teams from Kansas City and San Diego duked it out in overtime. The thirst is real.
It also helps that games themselves are limited. While I’m a sports fan in every regard, it can be difficult to watch every baseball game—there are 162 in an MLB season—or even every Hockey or Basketball game; both, respectively, have regular seasons of 82 games. Whereas the NFL is significantly shorter. While some of us may spend every waking minute tinkering with fantasy lineups, there are only 16 games per year. That’s a significantly easier dedication to make, while still having the ability to remain as die-hard and obsessed as everyone else. It doesn’t hurt, meanwhile, that the game has now expanded to three nights a week: Sundays, Mondays, and now Thursdays, making the previously long, long, waits between games much shorter, and bearable.
So, with the first week of the NFL season set to conclude tonight with a pair of Monday Night Football contests on ESPN, another season of blood-pumping, adrenaline-fueled action is among us. It’s what gets us screaming with excitement with every touchdown, or bowing our heads in disappointment when our quarterback hits the ground. The game has its warts, yes, and as the season starts, we have to face these issues head on: because every little bit helps and, meantime, we can’t stop watching, and we know you really can’t either.