Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Football's back, and I stink

Thank God football is back.

I don't have anything major against other professional sports -- at least, not seriously -- but I'm a football fan. Baseball is a nice thing to keep track of, but watching games doesn't have the same gravity when there are some hundred-odd of them to see over the course of the season. I've played baseball, and I loved playing it, but watching -- even as a weekend Yankees fan -- doesn't have the appeal.

Basketball I skip altogether. The pros are full of prima donnas, and the only school I hold any allegiance to -- Syracuse, because it's near home -- only shows up once in a while. I actually booked time to watch the Orange's appearance in the NCAA championship, only to find that our star, Gerry McNamara, decided not to show up. With a season average of somewhere near 20 points per game, the jackass decided he was only going to sink two lousy points in the championship run, and effectively booted Syracuse out of contention on his own.

Besides, it's rare for me to get emotional at all about basketball. When good college teams and pro teams regularly run up 90-110 points a game, where's the payoff after a score? Possession changes too quickly, and while teamwork is absolutely necessary, it still winds up feeling shallow -- at least to me.

Enter football. Every game matters, and every play is a chess match between two coaches. You get to see how each team adapts its plays to take better advantage of its opponent's weaknesses, and you recognize immediately how critical the pure physicality of your players is.

"Will they see this coming? Can we work our way out of this one?"

Incredibly deep questions, both; and they're asked routinely during each game of football played on American soil.

Superstition is not a football-unique phenomenon, and for a long while I thought I was immune -- at least until this past weekend. I'd gotten a bonus in my paycheck, so I splurged and bought a Ben Roethlisberger jersey I found on sale at a mall -- marked down from $79 to around $55. I'd wanted the (wide receiver) Hines Ward version, but they didn't have it in black, so I snagged the Big Ben.

Two days later, I find out the Steelers quarterback has been hospitalized for an emergency appendectomy. Ward, meanwhile, is out for the season opener thanks to a hamstring injury.

Is my buying of merchandise cursed? If so, then I could do well by snapping up Peyton Manning -- equipment. But maybe it's the fact that I got the jersey on sale... so should I make a point of paying full price from now on?

These are questions that are going to plague me while I watch Thusday's season opener of the Steelers versus the Dolphins. Years ago, I'd have given anyone with the same symptoms a free pass to the crazy ward, but now I'm too wrapped up in this thing to protest. Someone find me a bookie.