This season I realized that what I used to think of as a bunch of meat slabs running around on a field is actually a highly nuanced competition, featuring insane nerds with an arsenal of some of the most athletically ridiculous people on Earth at their...
I used to really hate football. As an outsider who hadn’t watched more than four or five games in his life, it just looked like a bunch of lard bros banging into one another while a couple of weasel bros took turns trying to throw the ball into the air so hard it would turn into points. And then, you know, a bunch of car and beef jerky commercials.
This year I accidentally got into the NFL. Mainly because I’m a sucker for strategy games and gambling, so when a friend invited me to play in his goddamn fantasy league I accepted. At first I said, “I will never watch the games. I’ll just read the stats and figure out how to win.” This turned into—from Week One—watching every single game every single Sunday, and reading the sports and fantasy strategy websites nearly every day in between. I realized quickly that what I used to think of as a bunch of meat slabs running around on a field is actually a highly nuanced competition, featuring insane nerds with an arsenal of some of the most athletically ridiculous people on Earth at their disposal.
You could talk all day about what team is cool and who is good and how it happened, even why the Denver Broncos deserve to be crushed in a small pale vice on national TV, but at the same time, the NFL is ridiculous in ways beyond its competition. Alongside continuous feats of athletic what-the-fuck, each game is stuffed with minutiae that is every bit as noteworthy as any man’s ball-throw or ball-touch or ball-kick or whatever ball-happened.
Here are a few of the more memorable phenomena from the year I learned to love the NFL.
Eli Manning Interceptions
Eli Manning looks like a little boy who got caught shuffling through his grandmom’s purse for lipstick he can go into the closet with and eat. Throughout the year I was often reminded that he’s won a Super Bowl, and yet I still found myself watching Giants games solely to see him eat shit. Over and over the ball seemed to fly out of his hands and hit the ground, or, even better, into the hands of the other team. Maybe it’s weird that part of the fun of sports is taking pleasure in a person you do not like having a hard day, but this season Eli was just a theater of hilarious cruelty. Fail and fail and get paid and fail and be yelled at by other little boys who wanted you to be what you seemed like you could have always been once and now fail and win once and fail and fail.
Marshawn Lynch One-Yard Step In
I always thought end zone celebrations were confusing, like after you score you’re expected to dance or put on a play? There’s a lot of room for funny shit there, but I couldn’t help but cringe every time Colin Kaepernick, the world’s most obvious 311 super fan, kissed his biceps or Jimmy Graham, anthromorphic Oscar statue, did a dunk on the goal post, like two huge boys with tattoos of penises on their faces. But Marshawn Lynch is a creation of a wholly different level. Watching the guy gain yardage over and over while dragging people behind him is hard not to get excited about. When he runs, Marshawn says he hears nothing but the sound of his breathing and the pumping of his blood. His assuredness was especially apparent during a game against San Francisco when, having caught a pass in the red zone on the one-yard line, he stopped, took a long look across the field as if to acknowledge he was in a wholly other world, and then casually stepped across the goal line (cut to the 40-second mark) with his arms down, as if there were never any other place to stand. Cold as fuck, and a welcome vision from a man who’d rather get fined $50,000 than talk to the media about the game. Here are his only other rules: absorb Skittles into your bloodstream, play for your mom, dominate your opponent because he is a child and you are a robot with a darkness visor that makes the world all one tone.
Knowshon Moreno's Tears
The NFL has dudes who cry so hard they look like they are peeing out of their eyes. All these bodies full of water are orchestrated within seconds to be in the right place at the right time running full speed into someone who has spent years becoming the exact machine that can stop them from doing what they are trying to do. Water is exploding inside everybody every second. Knowshon lets it out. He says it’s not rare; he thinks about his life on the field, the blessings and the shit. He drags his body across the green grass taking years off of his life trying to push a skin ball across a white line in space. That’s good and gracious. I like to imagine all the guys in all their helmets crying constantly, overflowing. The world is glass.
Detroit versus Philly in snow so thick you couldn’t even see the field in some shots, much less where the bodies were in the white mass of ice. A welcome chaos as the bodies scrambled to traverse the tundra like babies waking up years older all of a sudden on national TV covered in the junk the sky sometimes pukes to keep us inside our houses without food. The bodies crashed and flailed and waited to be irreparably damaged and then replaced by someone likely just as physically insane with just as much time to live before they too are weak and broken. Amid that scene is Calvin Johnson, a mind-boggling machine and evidence that one man out of hundreds of physically insane people devoting their lives to the same pursuit can somehow still be miles ahead innately, looking like he got encased in batter for jumping through the barriers of God’s sleep.
Greg Hardy’s Sunglasses
Carolina’s defense as a whole was fun to watch this year, but Greg Hardy’s ferocity on the field, off the field, and in the player introductions continued to be a highlight reel of hungry power. Wearing sunglasses and a scowl, buried among TV’s routine, Greg Hardy calmly tells the camera his name is Kraken and he went to the school of Hogwarts. You can see in the light reflected off his lenses that he’s been shining elsewhere for sometime. How is stopping dudes from doing what dudes want to do a thing that makes the blood churn? You’re standing in a living room shouting glory because they didn’t go anywhere. The suits around the bodies hide the flesh. After his game with four sacks on Matt Ryan, when asked if he remembered dominating a game like that ever before, he said: “Man, I dominated breakfast when I woke up, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. I dominate everything I do. That’s a silly question. Next question.”
“What did you have for breakfast?”
“Uhh, cereal. Killed it. No spoon.”
Indeed, the eternally rotating mystery of a grocery’s cereal aisle lurks between every down, as at any juncture of this toy party, anything can happen. On any play, dudes can get splashed on their backs and drop the ball and see the ball go with the other team’s man, dudes can score points for money and slap butts in happiness, dudes can get crunched against the Earth and have their careers ended. Greg Hardy remains a wizard and a blood-chomper, the only two kinds of things you ever need.
The Majesty of Richard Sherman
Bodies on TV should always scream. Physical geniuses should always scream and say insane shit to everybody on TV with their eyes huge and insane. They should fill the field with roast beef and eat it shitting and laughing with beautiful music. Richard Sherman is alive. I’m not sure who watches football expecting players to be gentlemen bean kissers who wink and handshake and do commercials for cars. People should kiss Richard Sherman’s blood any time he bleeds, seeing it spread on the faces of Kelly Ripa and Tom Brady. No apologies and no complaints. Big beautiful hair screaming into the microphone and then smiling 15 minutes later, graceful in violence and heart. Eat the scalps of the pale goober on the 50-yard line then go home and read a book and throw the book away and go to bed and get up and eat and eat. Thanks again for the beautiful reminder of what America hugs and kisses until it remembers it is being watched and preyed on by something larger than itself.