I have a shameful secret to confess: I don't love the NFL. In a country in which "Are you ready for some football?" is presumed to be a rhetorical question, I'm coming out of the closet--I'm flushing myself out of the pocket--as the last American male who has never bet on a game, joined the office pool, belonged to a fantasy league, played the Madden video game or owned a TV larger than my garage door.
Jevon Kearse isn't the Freak; I am, because loving the NFL is now a compulsory American activity, like jury duty. When the name of a Detroit defensive back was announced last Friday night during the Jets-Lions preseason game, a woman in my row at Giants Stadium said, "Is his name really R.W. McQuarters? I thought that was a McDonald's character."
Why would someone who can't tell an eight-year NFL veteran from the Hamburglar's accountant want to pay $70 to attend an exhibition game? Yet there we all were, chanting "J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets" and giddily sliding into D-E-B-T Debt Debt Debt.
Consider that more than 10,000 fans pay $50 a year, every year, for the privilege of keeping their names on the Jets' season-ticket waiting list. But the in-stadium experience, during five-minute television timeouts, is even less exciting than watching grass grow. (It's FieldTurf.)
Don't get me wrong: I do follow the NFL. Or more accurately, it follows me, like a missionary through an airport. So I can't help but know Drew Brees's quarterback rating and how to pronounce Laveranues and a whole glossary of NFL terminology.
Hash marks: What you might find on Ricky Williams's couch.
Dime package: What you might find under Ricky Williams's couch.
Quarterback: What you get after forking over $7 for a beer at Giants Stadium. (Yes, they're $6.75 a bottle.)
Encroachment is what the league keeps doing on our summers. The Hall of Fame game seems to sneak into our homes earlier every year. "Like a burglar climbing through the window," as a startled colleague put it. "I turned around, and it was there." If I have to watch the Cardinals and the Giants play in August, Albert Pujols better be batting third.
And please don't talk about the "preseason." Preseason is what you do to a steak before grilling it. George Carlin points out that you can't really "preheat" an oven or "preboard" an airplane: You can only heat an oven or board an airplane. Likewise, you're in season or you're not. So I paid $85 (with parking) to see the Jets and the Lions combine for 13 points in a scrimmage. It was a facsimile of fun. It was pre-fun.