Sometimes I genuinely wonder why I like football.

It’s an extreme glorification of violence. These players are damaging their minds and bodies for our amusement. Most of them have no idea what the long term ramifications will be, no matter what they say about “knowing what they are getting into”. This sport literally erodes brain matter and causes shortened life spans, suicides and painkiller addictions that sometimes lead to accidental overdose. The players frequently suffer for very little gain. Three years for the average player is terrible, and they don’t make enough money in that time frame to possibly deal with the possible lifetime of injury recovery.

Many of the players are exploited by a system built to profit off of the sport at the expense of the players. This is more for College and High School than the pros, but it goes for the pros too. Players are given a “free education” to hurt themselves to make people money. Most of them don’t get an education, because football in division 1 college schools is basically a job and they get passed on through the school because they can ball. Most don’t get degrees anyway, because they declare for a chance. Then most end up spending 3-ish years making several hundred thousand dollars until one day it’s all gone and they have nothing.

Then you get to how the NFL, college and the like enjoy sweeping things under the rug if the player can ball or if something might damage the team’s PR and henceforth some profits. People like Greg Hardy get passes by teams, but wearing the wrong color socks can get you thousands in fines. They have to wear tons of pink in October’s breat cancer support promotion, but when a player wants to actually honor a breast cancer victim and wear pink the whole year (DeAngelo Williams) they are told no. Some things that would just be fun, like group celebrations and such, are deemed penalties because the NFL hates fun and doesn’t want to actually embrace the fact that it’s not a blue collar sport anymore for REAL MEN, where celebrating isn’t THE RIGHT WAY TO PLAY. The right way of course, is to give your opponent head trauma.

And on top of it all, the whole thing is controlled by mostly uncaring greedy businessmen who care more about the profits than the product. If you are lucky to have an owner who appreciates both then good for you, but most don’t seem to. That’s why teams are uprooted or cities held hostage to pay for these billionaire’s money printing machines. That’s why head trauma was swept under the rug until the rug wasn’t big enough to hide it anymore. That’s why Cheerleaders are incredibly underpaid. That’s why the NFL actively pretended it never saw the Ray Rice tape until it was too late to deny it. That’s why the NFL will go to incredible lengths to protect its squeaky image (7 months of bullshit over saggy balls) and promote good players who might be rapists.

I could go on, but you get my point. Football is messed up. There is so much wrong in the sport. But in those moments where I doubt myself, I’ll see a game, or a season, or even just a play, where it reminds me of why I love it. Cardinals/Packers was that sort of game. For everything that is wrong with football, that game represented all that was right.

It’s the human drama of it all. Stat nerds get uppity about “narratives” and such, but that sort of thing is what feeds this fandom. Stats will show a touchdown pass, but the human drama shows an old QB in his second wind, trying desperately to win his first ever playoff game, playing poorly, throwing a pass to another older player just trying to reclaim a chance at a championship. The pass is deflected by an equally determined defender, but the ball flies right into the hands of another receiver, who celebrates as the home crowd goes wild because it was the go-ahead touchdown with the time winding down. The stats will show an incomplete pass, but the human drama shows a coach being so aggressive that it may have cost his team a chance to put the game away by not running down the clock. The stats will show a deep strike, but the human drama will show a QB backed into his own endzone escaping the pocket throwing a desperation heave on 4th down. The stats will say touchdown, but it won’t show that touchdown coming at the last second, thrown by a QB across his body, off his backfoot, 30 yards away into double coverage. And the Stats won’t show how Carson Palmer somehow scrambled like Russell Wilson, found a wide open Larry Fitzgerald, who proceeded to make some of the best cuts I’ve seen a WR make to take the ball to the 3 yard line, and then catch a shovel pass and win it all 2 plays later.

It was incredible, and that’s why I still love football, no matter what, why I can never turn my back on it. No TV show or movie has ever had me as constantly riveted as football does. As long as I get to see the drama of it all each week, I’ll forgive it. It’s worth keeping in mind the bad stuff so we can try to fix it, because what the sport does right is worth saving.

God that game was good.

Thursday: back to silly jokes