June 24, 2007

Well, I'm Ready for Some Football

AH, SUMMER. For devotees of baseball and the beach, it is a fabulous and wonderful season. For football fans, not so much. After all, it's been MORE THAN FOUR MONTHS since Super Bowl XLI wrapped up and there are still 74 ENTIRE DAYS until the New Orleans Saints play the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL's season opener on Sept. 6. As you can see, football fans everywhere are in the midst of the Horrible Summer Drought that comes like clockwork every year.

Like many fans, I have sought out what some might call "football methadone" to get me through this trying time. There are the NFL Europe games and the arenaball leagues and -- starting this Thursday! -- broadcasts of the Canadian Football League. (Many will be broadcast on local sports stations, like NESN and the regional Comcast Sports channels -- here's a handy guide. Sadly, there's no word about Ohio, but check your local listings).

These games are a lot of fun to watch, don't get me wrong -- I really do enjoy them. But that said, they're just not the same. You see, they don't -- and they can't -- offer that incredible combination of joy and hurt that the National Football League and college football provide their fans during the fall. Consider that so far this year, my off-season teams haven't done all that well, and yet I remain fully functional and composed.

Sure, the Cologne Centurions (6-4) didn't make it to the World Bowl, and the Grand Rapids Rampage (4-12) are woefully out of playoff contention in the Arena Football League. But that's OK. (The Philadelphia Soul, at 8-8, still have a shot but it doesn't look good). And one can hope that my favorite CFL team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, will do well this year -- but one wonders how they'll do in a tough West Division. They're 2-0 in the pre-season, but that only means they're potentially setting themselves up for Oakland Raiders Syndrome.

As for my hometown Manchester Wolves, I'm confident they'll make the playoffs in the af2 league. I'm confident because I ran across Blitz, our team's cheerful and friendly mascot, this weekend, and I asked him directly:

ME: Hey, Blitz! Are we going to make the playoffs?
BLITZ: (Ponders for a moment, then pumps fist towards ceiling)
ME: Yes -- we -- are!

Of course, it remains to be seen how the Wolves, now 5-6, will do against playoff opponents who have so far played spectacularly. For instance, our hated division rival, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Pioneers, is 11-0. 11-0. This team is so good it's scary.

Now, one of the great things about off-season football is that you can watch it without the huge emotional commitment that comes with watching one's absolute favorite teams. I mean, when Pittsburgh gets knocked out of the playoffs, or Michigan loses to anyone, it really throws me for a loss. With my off-season teams, though, they can lose repeatedly and it doesn't have a true gut impact on my psyche.

In part, it's a question of the emotional stakes being so small. For instance, with the Wolves, I don't mind if they lose provided they play hard and play well -- going to the games and watching the guys play their hearts out is fun enough. And in part, it's a question of focus. With the Roughriders, I keep an eye on them throughout the season, but because by fall my attention is focused on the NFL and the college game, their losses aren't all that problematic.

All that said, though, I am quite hopeful that some planned football leagues will help ramp up the excitement level during the off-season -- and even during the fall too. For instance, the All-American Football League is planning to launch next spring with a ten-game season, culminating in a July 3 championship game. My home state of Michigan is slated to have a team, and the league will offer a blend of pro and college excitement. I am so there.

Also slated for a 2008 launch is the United Football League. I am less optimistic about its prospects, because it will play during the fall and "playing during the fall" usually results in "getting stomped by the NFL like a cockroach." But the folks behind it seem pretty darn clever. They'll play their games on Friday nights, when the NFL is forbidden to do so, and they're putting their teams in markets where the NFL presently isn't -- including Mexico City, which will be my team if this thing gets off the ground. I hope they can pull it off -- if only because watching a UFL game would be watching some fourth-rate college game on Friday nights.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 24, 2007 05:01 PM | TrackBack
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