This Sunday feels hollow, barren. It’s Super Bowl Sunday. And it is my first in abstaining from this once cherished holiday, the culmination of a painful season devoid of a once favorite pastime. Football.
For the first time in more than 35 years, the season kicked off and rumbled forward without this browngirl on the bandwagon. Despite it being a voluntary choice, I remain disgusted with myself for being unable to just make a clean break. Or at least find other converts with whom to commiserate.
Worse, it’s made me feel like a stereotypical girl. You know the ones that would always watch football fans with crossed arms, rolling their eyes and clucking about the distaste for cheering such violence.
Not only was I the anti-version of those Pretty-in-Pink chicks, I was an all out fan that scoffed at those who cast such aspersions. I was one who would prescribe and predict plays, shout down bad calls and roar louder than most dudes who ever saddled up to a football-filled weekend. That was then.
With story after story emerging about the increasing demands on and dangers for younger and younger athletes, the devastating effects on current and former players, even their premature and horrible deaths, I could no longer look at myself in the mirror and say I was just an innocent fan.
With my replica caps, jerseys and lustful cheers, I began feeling complicit in their pain, their deaths. It was like I was one of the bloodthirsty spectators in the Roman Coliseum screaming for gladiators to fight to the death.
It didn’t feel good. So I quit the game. Cold turkey.
My weekends have felt strange ever since. No games. No watching pre-game, halftime and post-game highlights. No recapping every catch, hit and fumble with fellow fans. While I’ve welcomed the extra time on my hands, I have been feeling like a woman without a country all season, a self-selected exile suddenly roused from the Matrix. And I’ve been a little sad, for what was.
Many treasured memories include pigskin moments. Wishing I was that kid that Mean Joe Greene tossed his Terrible Towel to. Crying in front of the stereo (our TV was busted), decked head-to-toe in Eagles green, listening to my squad’s unmitigated defeat in Super Bowl XV, and then worse, the presser afterward when my beloved coach Dick Vermeil stepped down, also in tears. Pretending to be Dan Marino or Ronnie Lott – depending if I was on offense or D – during recess scrimmages. Screaming with joy because Doug Williams was the MVP of Super Bowl XXII, the first black quarterback in the big game, and going to Disney World. Those were good times.
Then there was the universal hatred of the Dallas Cowboys endemic to any true Philadelphia fan that I cherished, even though I held deep respect for Coach Landry and thought they did him dirty when they dumped him. It further fueled my disdain for “America’s Team,” as well as cemented a sense of community.
|Gang Green - the fearsome Eagles defense of the '90s|
Devotion to my hometown squad was greater than my street play, enduring the wilderness years of Rich Kotite to be revived with the highs of Buddy Ryan’s Gang Green. Plus there was the electrifying but erratic play of Randall Cunningham, one of the pioneers who proved that blacks could helm a squad, despite all the conventional wisdom to the contrary. The thrills of watching Cris Carter soar above a pile of defenders was only matched in later years by watching Wolverine, er, Brian Dawkins, demolish a receiver on the other side. I took Amtrak from Philly to his native Jacksonville to witness the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIV because all flights were sold out, a butt-endurance ride I hadn’t made since my undergrad days at Florida A&M. Regardless, it was bliss.
But as I think of BDawk now, I can’t help but wondering if his decades-long migraines may have been a signal to something else amiss, something for which no one wanted to see or be responsible. He’s just one of many players I watched and admired for their prowess, tenacity and focus that we’re now seeing hobbled if not fatally wounded after years of collisions on the gridiron. It’s a list that’s growing.
As we’re piecing together the scientific effects of those bone-rattling hits today, we’re recognizing those descriptions are more than literary flourish. They’re real, meaning the game has the potential equivalency of encounters with IED-laden enemies – just with the upfront and illusory perks of fame, money and women, perks that tend to dissipate as ailments worsen. And it’s fan-fueled destruction.
Acknowledging that is hard. It’s hard to admit to, let alone dispel, a delusion. Ask any domestic violence survivor, any recovering addict. Loving football is not as dire, but willfully ignoring the reality that this multibillion dollar industry has gotten faster and far more brutal than the charming days of Knute Rockne isn’t that far removed. Justifying that enjoyment with a “they-knew-what-they-signed-up-for” rationale isn’t acceptable. Not anymore. Not for me.
That doesn’t make it easy. It’s a struggle, trying to live by principle and do the right thing without sounding like a self-righteous Cassandra, or one of those annoying perky chirpy pink chicks. Super Bowl XLVII has the drama and trappings that elevate the moment – from the redemptive last grasp for the ring tale of the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis to the San Francisco 49ers quest to restore its dynasty.
It’s why there aren’t too many Super Bowls that I’ve missed. It was never just about the chips and dip, the ads or the halftime extravaganzas that sometimes outshone the game in infamy (read: Janet Jackson and Nipple-tonia). It was the excitement and camaraderie of the Big Game, the last winter holiday. The Pro Bowl two weeks later served as a nibble, something to tide you over until the next NFL draft, training camps, pre-season, to repeat all the rituals.
I so miss it all, mad at myself for missing it, knowing all that I know. It’s a rift between head and heart.
So I’ve started calling my abstention a football fast. That leaves alive the hope that maybe, somehow, something can be introduced to reverse the game from its course, an eventual road to perdition.
Like I said, shaking delusions is tough business.