I just did a hashtag. Did you see that? All the people saying I’m a dinosaur newspaper man who can’t keep up with the changing times, take that. I am a man of the “now” generation and can make my point through the short-but-sweet tool of the hashtag.
Granted, I have no idea what to do with it now, but I made it. And that’s what we should be focusing on today.
Of course, focus is somewhat of a foreign concept to many right now. The National Football League is back in the swing of things this week, and fans across these once-fruited plains are engaging in the time-tested practice of hope.
“If our guys stay healthy and Player X steps up this year, and our new defensive coordinator makes changes and the moon lines up in just the right spot, I can see us making the playoffs,” say any number of random fans. “And once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen!”
Yes, indeed, anything can happen. We’ve seen teams nearly every season rise from the ashes like a phoenix and go on magical rides that invigorate their fan bases and electrify their towns. The NFL has been manipulating its rules for decades now in search of league parity, and they’ve been largely successful in creating a level playing field. With an inversed draft order, salary caps and schedules based partly on where the teams finished the year before, there is more opportunity than ever for once-downtrodden teams to find success.
Except for you, Redskins fans. You have no shot this year.
I don’t say that out of hatred for the Redskins or their fans, mind you. I’ve actually been an observer of the team for my entire life and enjoy when they do well, but let’s be honest for a minute — the organization is a Dumpster fire. That might be understating it, actually. The organization is a Dumpster fire in the middle of an odd raw sewage collection harvested by a person who hasn’t bathed in 14 years and...
But I digress.
Even if your team is not one expected to compete for a Super Bowl championship, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited for the coming season. For one, there is that aforementioned hope factor. You hope that some of those young guys come on strong, and that your team is building something special for next year. You hope that the team is able to pull off that one huge upset over a dominant franchise that you can savor over and over in your mind over the next offseason. You hope that your fantasy football team can come out on top this week, and you are less in danger of finishing last in your league and have to get an embarrassing tattoo or walk the Bethany Beach boardwalk in a blinking tutu as punishment.
Actually, the NFL’s continued popularity and success sometimes puzzles me. They have been through controversies ranging from performance-enhancing drugs to street narcotics to domestic abuse to murder to deflated footballs and illegal videotaping. For the most part, they have completely fumbled (sorry) every one of these controversies, and have been made to look foolish in the court of public opinion by the way they have responded.
But they remain king, and have a Teflon feel about them that nothing bad can really stick to them once the games start.
I do believe the rise of fantasy football plays a major part in the sport’s continued popularity. Instead of serious fans being only interested in one game a week, they are now vested in every contest. And, even more importantly, instead of non-fans who had zero interest in zero games, there are many who now care deeply about every single game and player.
Add in the popularity of betting on games, the fact that the teams only compete once a week and the notion that it is the ideal sport to watch at home in front of a television, and the cash register continues to ring loudly in league headquarters.
Go to a grocery store Sunday morning and see how many people are wearing $100-plus jerseys reflecting their favorite teams. See how many children are wearing them. And women. And employees of the store, themselves.
“Give domestic abusers the same punishment as a guy who gets caught smoking a doobie? Shame on you, NFL,” was the refrain from many observing the league’s disciplinary actions. But that was also followed by, “When will the NFL’s website carry the jersey of my favorite new rookie?”
It’s full of warts and bumps and bruises, but the NFL continues to reign supreme. And I can’t wait for kickoff. Hey, I’m not proud.
I really want to wish nothing but joy to two friends who are tying the knot this weekend, Brittany Young and Joe Brocato.
Joe is one of the best guys I’ve ever known — loyal, trustworthy, smart, hardworking and funny. And he is marrying waaaaaaaay over his head. Congratulations to you both.