July 24, 2007

Believe!

ONE OF THE SAD THINGS about the Michael Vick indictment, as many have noted, is that it robs Atlanta Falcons fans of a great joy this year -- the hope and anticipation and excitement that goes along with the start of training camp and the pre-season.

Just a month ago, Falcons fans could look to this year's season and hope for the best. Now, they're facing the real possibility of having Joey Harrington as their starting quarterback. Consequently, they're also facing a season that, at best, will result in a Green Bay Packers-like performance and, at worst, an Oakland Raiders-like disaster.

Not only that, but the Falcons fans must gird themselves for weeks, if not months, of mockery. Why, even the baseball players are laughing at the Falcons. Look at the small-time California team giving away free tickets in return for Vick memorabilia, which it will then burn. One could argue that baseball, with its doping scandals, vastly-overpaid stars and teams still suffering from the 1994 strike, has no business telling football about anything. But that is how things stand and for the Falcons this year's outlook seems decidedly bleak.

The good news, though, is that there are 31 other teams in professional football, and all of them -- even Detroit -- can hope against hope that this year will be the year. Obviously, there are teams that have a better shot than others. The New England Patriots -- for reasons I can't fully understand -- are currently far and away the favorite to win Super Bowl XLII. Still, the Pittsburgh Steelers will field a strong team. The Indianapolis Colts will do so as well. That said, one also can't rule out Baltimore, San Diego, Denver, Kansas City, Tennessee, and the New York Jets. Hell, even fans of the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills have cause for hope. And in the second-tier NFC, fans of Chicago and New Orleans and Seattle have a great shot at seeing their teams make it to the big dance.

But even the lesser teams can hope against hope now. For instance, the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns will have recuperated from the devastating injuries that plagued their squads last year; the Washington Redskins can hope for redemption; the Dallas Cowboys can hope the Romo-Owens combination will really catch fire. Why, I bet fans of the Oakland Raiders are even dreaming of a season where they win six games.

It is a powerful thing, hope. For a football fan, hope is what gets you through the tough times, through the interminable losses, through the valleys that never seem to end. Hope is what keeps you coming back week after week. Hope is what keeps you putting on the hats and jerseys every Sunday. Hope is what keeps you watching in the fourth quarter when all seems lost but there's still a tiny chance of victory.

For it is not winning but losing that truly defines the football fan -- the inevitable losses to more powerful teams, the inexplicable losses to lesser teams, the post-season dreams dashed on a frozen December night. Losing -- and the pain and suffering and gnashing of teeth that goes along with it -- is a constant. It is the natural state of things. It pierces the heart and wounds the soul deeper than any icy wind. And for 31 of 32 teams this year, it will arrive again. It may arrive during the first frost in November or a storm in the bleak mid-winter, but it will arrive.

It will not, however, arrive for many more weeks. Now, the fields bask in the glow of the sun. Now, there is hope -- hope that this year will be the year. Whatever team you support* -- whether it's the Steelers or the Patriots or even the Falcons -- savor this time. Relish it. And believe!

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* Well, unless you're a Philadelphia Eagles fan. In that case, God help you. Except He won't, because He has clearly cursed your wretched city like He cursed Egypt of old. That's what you get for booing Santa Claus.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 24, 2007 09:29 PM | TrackBack
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