Thursday, September 11, 2014

The FGR's Thursday Night NFL Pick

I have been a dedicated fan of the NFL for the better part of 36 years. It is with some amount of shame that I admit my first favorite team was the Dallas Cowboys but it becomes a bit less offensive when you consider that the basis for that fandom was: (1) the fact that I grew-up in the shadow of the U.S. Naval Academy and, from the time I can remember, I was told that Roger Staubach was conceivably the second coming (and he may actually have been); (2) I was surrounded by Redskins fans who, next to Yankee and Red Sox fans, are probably the most insufferable that you will ever find; and (3) the Cowboys were on TV every week so for a kid whose dad had no interest in driving to Baltimore or D.C. to see a live NFL game, the Cowboys were as much a home team as any other. (But let's face it, the real reason was that I was a wise-ass punk who loved to piss-off Redskin fans).*

"You fookin' sook Kotite!!!"
When Baltimore stole the Browns, I was living downtown approximately 300 yards from where M&T Bank Stadium would be built.** Knowing those home games were coming and based on the rollicking tailgates I had recently been hitting at Jet games, I scraped together $1,000 to buy two personal seat licenses (PSL's). Our seats were in the bleachers in one of the endzones and when I say bleachers, I mean hot or cold metal benches. The homeless people on 33rd Street scoffed at our accommodations. (My college roommates were and I guess still are Jet fans. There may not be a more entertaining crowd from a comedic bitterness standpoint. They're like Eagles fans with a dark sense of humor).

When the team moved to its new stadium downtown (which is awesome by the way), we improved our seat position to somewhere around the 40 yard line but 32 rows up on the top level. When they would inevitably play Purple Haze and Jimi would say, "excuse me while I kiss the sky . . .", let's just say . . . (actually let's not say it. Too schticky). A few years later we would join forces with my brother in-law (the "FGBIL") and move down to the lower level and not long after that we'd pick-up a little extra real estate when the guy who sat next to us fell on hard times and had to sell ("sorry to hear about your deck building business . . . if selling your season tickets would help, just know we're here for you").  

So we entered the Harbaugh-Flacco era with six season tickets and an abundance of optimism which would turn-out to be justified as the team made five straight playoff appearances culminating with the Super Bowl win in 2013. During that stretch, I attended 37 of 40 regular season home games plus the two home playoff games against the Texans and the Colts. At least that's what you would have expected right? The truth is that I probably made barely a dozen appearances and not once was I there from kickoff to the final whistle because, you know, traffic. At some point I actually developed this theory/rationalization that if the Ravens were winning at the end of the third quarter (which they usually were), then I should leave because they were either going to close it out which would be boring or they were going to blow it and I did not want to be part of the death march out of the stadium that is unique to football fans who just saw their team blow a fourth quarter lead. It's like experiencing the five stages of grief all at once while drunk (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).  

"Whoa . . . where'd
the game go?"
Why the sudden apathy? It was really a convergence of syndromes. For example, if it was a nice day, I'd rather play golf (the "San Diego Syndrome"). If it was a crappy day, why would I want to sit outside for three hours? (the "Common Sense Syndrome"). Going to a game meant 5-6 hours away from my kids (the "Mike Brady Syndrome"). At home, I got to watch other games too (the "Redzone Syndrome" a/k/a "Scott Hanson's Disease"). I didn't have to fight my way down a line of people when I wanted to take a leak (the "Guy at the End of Our Row is a Douche Syndrome"). I tended to drink too much at the games (the "Dude, Where's My Car Syndrome?").

Add to those the following two things I never expected when I bought season tickets back in 1996: (1) Watching the games in the stadium can be tediously boring, especially Ravens games because, regardless of who coaches them or who plays for them, their style calls to mind Pat Riley's Knicks or the 15th round of a heavyweight bout where the two fighters are so exhausted that the only thing holding them up is each other; and (2) an NFL game is a miserable place to take your kids. Forget the cringing at every f-bomb, the fact that they can't see the field half the time or the constant fear that a 300 lb drunk water buffalo in a Haloti Ngata jersey is going to run over one of them in the concourse. I'm talking about just trying handle the basics of feeding them and going to the bathroom, a process that takes at least a quarter of the game because, while the ratio of males to females in attendance is probably 4 to 1 or 5 to 1, the ratio of male to female bathrooms is 1 to 1 (I know because I've been in there . . . desperate times call for desperate measures). And why would you want to subject your son to an NFL stadium bathroom anyway unless you thought he might spend some time in a Turkish prison down the road and you didn't want him to walk in unprepared?

So after building that case against regular attendance in my head, I pulled the plug and sold the PSL's. I'm out and I haven't felt a moment of remorse since I signed the papers and cashed the check. Does that make me a lame fan? Yes, yes it does but I am what I am. I will still be involved and the Ravens will always be my favorite team (unless they move to San Antonio or Portland). But from now on I will do most of my rooting from the couch in my basement where there's never more than one person in line for the bathroom and the Bud Lights cost a buck ("Passive Fan Syndrome").

(Sorry for the downer piece but I thought you could use a diversion from bloviating ESPN talking heads who think they've stumbled onto their Woodward and Bernstein moment with the only difference being that Woodward and Bernstein were real reporters who would have broken the story before the videotape came out and told them there was a story to break. Let's just pick the damn game and move on).          

Baltimore by 2.5 over Pittsburgh: The pick - Ravens

Neither team looked very good last week as the Ravens didn't show-up for the first half or the last five minutes of the game and the Steelers blew a 27-3 lead before clipping the Browns on a last second field goal. But none of that really matters because we know what tonight is all about. Two or maybe three touchdowns. Three or four field goals and one big fourth quarter play which will more than likely be a turnover returned for a touchdown. I'm thinking 17-13 Ravens.


There are parts of the
experience I'll miss.
* I may have taken it a bit too far when I wore a Cowboys sweatshirt to school the day after a particularly bitter win over the Skins just to get under the skin of my high school history teacher who then taught me a little something about how life works by having me sit in the back of the class facing the wall. (True story). It was one of the proudest moments of my life to that point.

** Non-Baltimoreans may not know that the Ravens played their first two seasons in Memorial Stadium, the former home of the Colts and the Orioles. Memorial Stadium was built in 1950 so it was 46 years old when the Ravens moved in. As someone who has experience with being almost 46 years old, I can tell you that Memorial Stadium looked like I often feel when I get out of bed in the morning . . . shit.

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