Happy days are here again!
The 2016 NFL season started yesterday and I couldn’t be happier. Ever since the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in February, there has been something missing on the sports scene for me.
There was a time when I used to follow all the sports, pro and college, but year by year my interest in them has fallen off one by one. First to go were college basketball and football : too many teams and the personnel kept changing every season. Now I only watch March Madness. Next to go was baseball: too long a season and by the time the World season rolled around I was focused on the NFL. Tennis lost much of its charm when Roger Federer was sidelined. Pro Basketball did hold my interest until recently , primarily because of the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors who play team basketball. Not for me the thuggish power basketball of the rest. All that’s left is NFL football. BTW, I was so absorbed in watching pro football yesterday that I completely forgot that the final of the U.S. Open was also being played yesterday. I only read about Stan Wawrinka’s victory over Novak Djokovic this morning. Go Stan !
Yesterday, I binged on pro football, watching two full games and parts of two others. I rarely watch games in their entirety but, yesterday, I watched the Cincinnati Bengals nip the New York Jets 23-22 and the New York Giants win a squeaker over the Dallas Cowboys 20-19. And, at night, I watched parts of Green Bay’s win over Jacksonville and Arizona’s surprise loss to the depleted New England Patriots. I am really indebted to my long suffering wife who sat through all this without complaining.
Those who live abroad will no doubt be mystified with Americans infatuation with football but, for those of us who watch it and understand its nuances, no other game comes even close. Soccer is understandably the most popular sport in the rest of the world but, for me, the lack of scoring is a decided shortcoming. What bothers me is not so much the paucity of goals but the decisiveness of that first goal. The team that scores first goes into a defensive shell as it tries to make the 1-0 score stand up. Compare it with American football where anything can happen at any time and often does. Yesterday’s four games were all decided in the closing moments and could have easily gone either way. The scoring for American football ( 7 points for a touchdown and 3 points for a field goal) is devilishly clever and ensures that no team can sit on a lead for most of a half.
I do agree that ( American) football is a violent game. I am not one of those who glories in punishing hits that knock a player out cold and I do feel a sense of guilt when I read about the effect of concussions on so many players. But those qualms diappear fast when I get absorbed in a football game and watch a running back break multiple tackles and gain 20 more yards. Or when a wide receiver catches a pass at full stretch and takes off for the end zone. And of course there are the moves and counter-moves that coaches orchestrate for the sideline. When I was new to football, one old timer explained that it was like a giant chess game with real people instead of plastic pieces, played on a football field instead of a chess board. He also told me that once I understood the nuances of the game, I would be hooked. How right he was.
P.S Some takeaways from yesterday’s games:
- I was very impressed with the play of the young quarterbacks, many of them rookies. Carson Wentz ( Eagles) and Dak Prescott ( Cowboys) were two among them ; too bad their teams are in the same division as my favorite N.Y. Giants.
- Jimmy Garappolo, who stood in for the suspended Tom Brady, was very impressive in his first pro start. He was a second round draftee last year and makes me envious of the Patriots ability to recognize talent in the college ranks. Remember, Tom Brady, a future Hall of Famer, was a sixth rounder.
- The Arizona Cardinals are a good team and I was hoping they would knock off the Patriots, who were playing without Brady and Rob Gronkowski as well as some of their linemen. Didn’t happen. I don’t like Belichick but there is no denying he is the best in the business.
- Way too early to make predictions but it looks like the rebuilding N.Y. Giants are a middling team that has a good shot at winning the weak NFC East.