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End Zone


Credit: Barry Lenard

The lot of a football fan is a rough one. Fans of professional hockey and basketball have 82 games in the regular season to look forward to. A baseball junkie gets to gorge himself on 162. Tennis lovers have four major tournaments and a slew of minor ones. But the football fan has 16 regular season games between September and December; that’s four months of football, and only once a week.

Even if your team makes it to the playoffs, it’s only a brief stay of execution: The season extends, at the most, five weeks. Which means, for those among us who didn’t grow up with basketball or hockey, who only like baseball to the extent that it involves garlic fries, who briefly worshiped Tim Henman and haven’t really followed tennis closely since, there is a lot of time to fill between now and next September. What’s a faithful football fan to do?   

Of course, for many football fans, the answer is simple: The offseason is a time to obsess about the draft. This is especially true if your team did terribly during the regular season and has a high first round pick, or if you’re worried about losing key players to free agency and wondering how they’ll be replaced. So Colts fans, whose team went a dismal 2-14 without Peyton Manning (out all season with a neck injury) will be hoping that Indianapolis drafts Stanford star quarterback Andrew Luck—a prospect so sought after that teams without viable playoff hopes were urged by their fans to “Suck for Luck.” And New England fans will be hoping that Wes Welker won’t be lured away by a more lucrative contract elsewhere, though negotiations are not looking good. Some team—maybe the Seahawks, maybe the Chiefs, maybe the Redskins—will end up trading for Peyton Manning, whose spine appeals to be healing. The nerves in his arm are regenerating, which may be evidence that he is a robot.

But beyond wondering where Luck will fall on the Eli-Manning-to-Todd-Marinovich scale, I can’t get that excited about the draft because I don’t really know about college football. When asked why I follow the NFL exclusively, I usually mumble something about how college football, like all college sports, is exploitative. But the NFL is exploitative, too (and violent, and financially weighted against its own players), and that doesn’t stop me from becoming so emotionally invested in games I have been known to pace anxiously, scream at the television, and fall into bouts of depression after poorly timed interceptions. No, the real reason is more embarrassing: I find the Bowl system hopelessly confusing.

There are some interesting questions to ponder over the offseason. Will Tim Tebow start for the Broncos next season, and if he does, will he play well with any consistency? Will the Lions, led by Matthew Stafford, finally figure out how to be a team that doesn’t snatch loss from the jaws of victory? Will Matt Ryan ever learn to deal with crowd noise? Will Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers look as good next season as they did last season? Will Rex Ryan’s Jets ever live up to Rex Ryan’s hype? Will anyone ever respect Tony Romo? In all likelihood, Tebow and Romo will both come back as starters, neither will perform very well, and hometown fans will continue to adore Tim and revile Tony. The 49ers won’t enjoy the element of surprise, but they’ve put together a solid team; barring a disaster, the boyish charms of Jim Harbaugh will get them to the playoffs again. Rex Ryan’s Jets are doomed to underperform, the Lions are doomed to disappoint, and Matt Ryan is doomed to lose games in high-pressure situations. A sports narrative, once set, is hard to shake—even in the face of compelling evidence against.

Most importantly though, which fictional television character would be best suited to advise your favorite NFL quarterback? A few weeks ago, Grantland published an open letter from Kenny Powers to Tim Tebow. It makes you wonder: Would Tony Romo’s confidence improve if Lesley Knope gave him a pep talk? Could Jack Donaghy turn the underachieving Lions into winners? (Maybe he could just give Detroit some money.) What kind of a smackdown would Olivia Benson give Ben Roethlisberger? All I know is, I would watch Ron Swanson and Bill Belichick build a canoe together: sawing wood, not speaking, wearing flannel shirts with the sleeves cut off below the elbow—now that’s riveting summer television.