A Crashing Bore

What's so fun about 22 guys in spandex slamming into one another? Along for the ride with Jets and Giants fans

I know that football involves complex, intriguing strategy, out-thinking your opponent in addition to out–pounding the shit out of him. There's a method behind the madness of the mess of collisions, handoffs, passes, tackles, and tangled limbs. I've watched the SportsCenter guys explain this my entire life; I've heard my friends argue about it; I've read books about it.

The problem is that when I actually watch a game, I can't see it. What I see is 22 guys in spandex, many of them larger than my mom's Corolla, crashing into each other as forcefully as possible, pausing for three minutes of beer ads, and repeating. The only exceptions to this are the games I attended in college, when I saw 44 guys crashing into each other.

Football fans are shaking their heads right now and dismissing me as an idiot, and you know what? That's fair. I have the same reaction when people tell me they just find baseball "too slow." The National Football League made roughly $6 billion last year, so it's safe to assume it's doing something right; if I'd grown up watching the game, I don't doubt I'd be counting down the minutes to Monday night, obsessing over my fantasy team, and making terrorist threats to Cablevision for refusing to carry the new NFL Network—but I didn't.

The second-best place in town to watch a Jets game. (The best is at home, on the living-room couch.)
photo: Filip Kwiatkowski
The second-best place in town to watch a Jets game. (The best is at home, on the living-room couch.)


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Having tried to get into the sport for years without much success, I haven't been able to make that crucial New York football commitment: Jets or Giants? As both teams played their final home games before slipping into the playoffs, it seemed like the perfect time to give America's de facto national pastime another chance.

To be fair, the Giants' Christmas Eve Holiday Spectacular was not exactly a showcase of the sport's finest qualities. After weeks of squabbling and mini-scandals—Michael Strahan bawling out an ESPN reporter with a mouth full of sandwich, Tiki Barber's early and often discussed retirement, Barber and Jeremy Shockey criticizing head coach Tom Coughlin, everyone else on the East Coast criticizing quarterback Eli Manning—they lost for the sixth time in their last seven games, to the New Orleans Saints, in what could be kindly termed an utter collapse.

There are elements of football that I enjoy, and Reggie Bush illustrated the main one beautifully, though unfortunately he did so for the visiting team. Dodging leviathans, he broke out of the game's torpid, yard-by-yard pace and into invigorating unimpeded runs without crushing anyone or being crushed (thanks, admittedly, to the crushing being done by his teammates). This is, of course, a major part of football, but every time it happens, it feels to me like cheating, though for a good cause—Odysseus outwitting the cyclops. Leon Washington has provided flashes of it for the Jets this season, and when Tiki Barber is on—as he wasn't in the Saints game but emphatically was the following week versus the Redskins—this is exactly what he excels at.

Barber's decision to retire at the peak of his game caused quite a stir, but I can't blame the guy for wanting to get out while he can still walk and see straight. Nearly every week various players are carted off the field with a cornucopia of injuries and head traumas; there is an X-ray room in Giants Stadium, right near the players' locker room, presumably because it would be a shame to waste a trip to the hospital if parts of your body were merely ripped, strained, or torn rather than actually broken.

There are more than 50 players on the Giants' roster, and as you'd expect, it's a diverse bunch. The Friday before Christmas, with the locker room floor strewn with wrapping paper (in addition to the usual jockstraps, towels, and pads), Michael Strahan loudly mocked R.W. McQuarters's briefs ("Calvin Klein ain't no friend of mine!") on the way to the shower, while in the another corner kicker Jay Feely engaged a teammate in animated, erudite philosophical debate about the nature of our "results-driven so ciety."

The team's locker room is peppered with inspirational quotes. "My ego was centered around my teams [sic] success, not my accomplishments— Bill Russell," reads one large sign. (I bet that missing apostrophe has slowly been driving Jay Feely insane for the last two years.) Another declares, "We are what we repeatedly do—excellence is not an act, but a habit." The same could be said of fumbles or interceptions, but never mind.

These sentiments were not much in evidence after the debacle against the Saints (30-7), when players used various combinations of the words "disappointing," "embarrassing," and "humiliating" in their post-game interviews. Tom Coughlin, who looks as if he's in dire need of some Pepcid and a deep-tissue massage even on his best days, said he felt "frustration and some despair" and went on to actually apologize for ruining Christmas.

Few places are quieter than a football locker room after a loss. When Terrell Owens criticized the Cowboys' game plan after a defeat a few weeks ago, analysts—particularly former players, like ESPN's Mark Schlereth—were beside themselves, not so much because he had cast aspersions on his coaches and quarterback but because he had done so while wearing a Santa hat. The slightest sign of levity is on par with wearing a low-cut red dress to a funeral.

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