Why We Need Football Back

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We watched in horror and disbelief early this year as the Coronavirus spread across the globe, changing our world and our lives seemingly forever. 

For many Americans, it didn’t hit home until the sporting events were cancelled – the NBA and college basketball were the first to fall. Then came baseball, golf, even motorsports – the virus was real and it was here.  

One unimaginable day after another, I found myself saying, “Thank God it’s not football season.” 

Surely, it would be over by then. We would be free by the Fourth of July, or so we were told. 

Days and weeks turned into months. We continued to distance ourselves from the people and things we loved. 

Then, there was the killing of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed. Chaos erupted in the streets and our cities burned.

But as sports slowly returned, so did something else – hope – that life as we knew it would also someday return.   

The start of football season is like a national holiday that goes on for months. Sundays, Thursdays, Saturdays – there’s always something to look forward to. 

This year, I’ve tempered my excitement. Who knows if the season will start – or if it does, what it will look like. Like so many other things, I knew football could be taken away from us at any moment.

With training camps closed and no preseason games, we haven’t had the usual buildup and to be honest, it feels a little surreal – but after months of uncertainty and unrest, week one of the NFL season is upon us. It finally feels real. It finally feels like football season. And I didn’t know how much I needed it until I saw ESPN’s It’s All Coming Back To Us Now video and the tears started flowing. 

Seeing the game we love and players we adore (and even the ones we don’t) brought it all back to me.  

I’m not going to say football will solve all our problems. But the truth is, we’ve never needed it more. 

On game day, the things that divide us fade away. 

Fans in the stands cheering and embracing each other regardless of race, religion, and politics is the America I know and love.  

It may look a little different this year, but America’s game can still bring Americans together. 

There may not be tailgate parties. 

There may not be stadiums filled with people.

But by God, there will be football. 

And this year, that’s enough. 

“It’s so hard to believe but it’s all coming back to me now…”

Dear Meryl Streep

Photo: Getty

Dear Meryl,

I don’t want to argue politics with you. I don’t really want to argue politics with anyone anymore. Haven’t we done that enough?

But there is one thing I would like to debate.

During your eloquent speech at the Golden Globes, you stated (in a somewhat demeaning tone) that if we kick all the foreigners out of Hollywood, then we’d have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, “Which are not the arts.”

Now, I can’t speak to mixed martial arts, but I can speak to football.

You see, I’ve spent my entire life watching football. And now, I spend my life writing about football. It’s taught me a lot about life – about  patience, about toughness, and about teamwork. Much like making a movie, in football, no one can accomplish anything on their own.

I’ve spent the past few years talking to football players, getting to know them, and listening to their stories. They’re the stuff movies are made of.

Some of them come from backgrounds you could never imagine. But just like you, they had a dream. Unlike you, they had to overcome much more to achieve them. Some had to fight racism and discrimination. Others grew up surrounded by poverty, drugs, and violence. And many suffered unimaginable heartache along the way.

Determined to better their lives and the lives of those around them, they were undeterred. They held onto hope because they had no choice – they were the only hope.

Football is a real game played by real people with real stories – some of which become movies. It isn’t just what happens on the field. It’s the stories of the players, their families, and their journeys. The life stories of athletes inspire art and create roles for people like you.

I don’t really care if you watch football. Maybe it’s not your thing. That’s fine. But don’t turn your nose up at those who do – much less, those who play the game.

You’re right. The world should be kinder, less judgmental, and more understanding.

And so should you.

XO

Better Late Than Never, Brett Favre is a Packer Forever

Growing up a Vikings fan, I had many opportunities to see Brett Favre play. More times than not, it was to victory over my team. When I moved to Indianapolis in 2004, the first Colts game I ever attended was against the Packers. I watched Peyton Manning go play for play against Brett Favre. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was watching two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.

Then there was the time, it still seems surreal, that Brett Favre actually became a Viking. I admit it was fun to watch. But let’s be honest, it never looked right. It never felt right. It just wasn’t right. You can put Brett Favre in purple and call him a Viking, but I knew what you knew and what he knew as well, that Brett Favre was a Packer. And he always would be.

Even as the enemy, I loved to watch Brett Favre play football. I know all players say they love the game, but none of them showed it on the field quite like Favre. He played with such passion, such enthusiasm, and such unadulterated joy. Every time he strapped on his helmet, he was like the boy back in Kiln, Mississippi, playing for his hometown team. Whether or not the NFL changed him, it never changed the game for him.

When Brett Favre retired (for the fifth time), it never felt real. Probably because he came out of retirement four of those times and most of us were waiting for him to do so again. But also, because he was estranged from the Packers, it never got the attention it deserved. It never felt final.

That is, until now.

On July 18, 2015, Brett Favre returned to Green Bay, Wisconsin. He passed through the tunnel at Lambeau Field one more time. Greeted by 67,000 fans in green and gold, they thanked him with a four-minute-long standing ovation. And Favre thanked them back in his speech.

“If there were any doubts before, there’s not any. I truly thank you.”

-Brett Favre

Still holding NFL records, including consecutive starts, quarterback wins, passing yards, and completions, Brett Favre was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame on Saturday night. His number 4 jersey was officially retired. And at long last, his storybook career got the fairy tale ending it deserved.

Better late than never, Brett Favre is a Packer forever.

And life in Green Bay is just as it should be.

 

A Bittersweet Time for Football Fans 

Former Colts Reggie Wayne and Peyton Manning (Photo: Indianapolis Colts)

Former Colts Reggie Wayne and Peyton Manning
(Photo: Matt Bowen/Indianapolis Colts)

This week begins the NFL free agency signing period. The unofficial start of the 2015 season. A chance to sign veteran players, players with a track record, players who’ve had proven success.

I should be excited. I should be ecstatic. Instead, I’m heartbroken.

Because this is also the time of year when football fans have to say goodbye to players. Players who come into our lives, players we spend years getting to know, players we cheer for every Sunday, players whose health we obsess over, whose every word we hang on, and after years of investing all of ourselves in this relationship, eventually, some day…it’s time to say goodbye.

That time is now.

And just like any other relationship, it can rip your heart out.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not about one player. I love my team and I’m excited about what they’re building. I understand the business of football. And oddly enough, I don’t disagree with the decision.

But that doesn’t change how I feel about it. Truth be told, right now, when I picture my Colts lining up without Reggie Wayne this season…I feel sick and empty inside.

I know there are other guys out there. Guys who could come in and make an immediate impact. But I don’t care about those guys. I don’t have a history with those guys. I haven’t made memories with those guys.

Right now, I’m heartbroken. Weepy heartbroken. Don’t want to eat heartbroken. Nothing’s going to make me feel better heartbroken.

And that’s the curse of being a football fan.

I’m mourning the loss of one of the football loves of my life. But unbeknownst to me, I’m also in the process of making new memories and falling in love with new players. Only to eventually repeat this pain all over again.

But if the alternative to having my heart broken is having players I don’t love on my team, then the choice is easy.

I’ll take heartbreak.

Every time.

I just wish it didn’t hurt so damn bad.

XO

Deflating the game

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady faces questions from the media (Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady faces questions from the media (Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty)

Champions don’t cut corners. They don’t make excuses. Champions don’t sneak, spy, or steal. Champions push themselves, challenge each other, and elevate the game they love.

The New England Patriots were the better team in the AFC Championship game. It was apparent from the start. They dominated the Indianapolis Colts in every way. And they won by a large margin. 45-7 to be exact.

They didn’t need to give themselves an unfair advantage. But from all angles, it appears they did. Someone did. And now, with the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl upon us, football fans aren’t talking about the Patriots’ decisive win, the dramatic overtime victory of the Seattle Seahawks over the Green Bay Packers, or the biggest game of the year. They’re talking about deflated footballs. You can’t turn around without hearing a ball joke and “deflategate” has been the top news story all week.

The NFL kicked off the season embroiled in off-the-field issues surrounding Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the fallout from which called into question the integrity of the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Now, it closes the season with an on-the-field issue, which takes direct aim at the integrity of the game itself.

What did the Patriots know? When did they know it? And who was responsible? We may never know.

My brilliant and witty friend, Shandon, coined Patriots quarterback Tom Brady “The Blue Jasmine of football.” If you didn’t see the movie Blue Jasmine, the script was loosely written around disgraced financier Bernie Madoff’s (now estranged) wife, Ruth, an “innocent bystander” who benefited greatly from her husband’s greed. Bill Belichick in the role of Bernie Madoff doesn’t seem like a stretch. Except, of course, for his wardrobe.

The problem is, this Patriots plot has more holes than an adult film. Belichick, a notorious control freak, admits to scheming to make practice balls uncatchable, but wants us to believe he’s never thought about a football on game day. And Brady, who has a process for picking and preparing balls, has never actually squeezed one. For the record, my sister Jennifer (who is a Tom Brady fan) says even she can tell the difference in a fully inflated ball when she’s throwing it around the backyard with my nephews.

This franchise is no stranger to cheating scandals. In 2007, Belichick was imposed a $500,000 fine (the maximum allowable) for his role in taping the defensive play calls of the Patriots’ opponents, earning the nickname “Belicheat.” Now, with their team headed back to the Super Bowl, New England fans find themselves in the position of defending the Patriots and their accolades once again.

If the game isn’t fair, then the game means nothing. And this game means too much to too many people for that. The attention created by deflated footballs is not silly. As Tony Kornheiser said on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, “It shows you what the NFL means to this country.”

A strong stance is needed from the man in charge of defending the NFL shield. And with the game on the line, Roger Goodell can leave no doubt as to which team he’s on.

Time for a big play, Commissioner.

I hope you have it in you.

XO