I am watching a football game.
I am not entirely sure why.
It could be because I am a little under the weather and lack the energy to do anything else. Nah, I would probably watch it anyway. And by the way, what does your position relative to the weather have to do with not feeling well? It would also seem that the “wellbeing-weather report” is apparently unidirectional, as no one in tip-top condition ever proclaims that they are “over the weather.”
Bringing me back – because I have no more to say about that – to the original question:
Why am I watching this football game?
Well, it is a playoff game. There is a tension involved – it is “Win or go home.” But that’s about the teams, not me. I’m already home.
I suppose, sometimes, you have to accept that you’re watching a football game for no justifiable reason, contenting yourself with the fact that you are doing minimal harm to yourself or to society, and simply curtail speculation. Which, in this case, is exactly what I do.
At which point, I am confronted by a pregame commercial. It is not for beer. Or a fast food restaurant. Or a truck that gets surprisingly good mileage.
It is a commercial for United States Navy.
Getting me thinking,
Look at that. My hard-earned tax dollars are being used to pay for advertisements on football games.
Leading subsequently to another thought.
Given the fact that over the last fifteen years, our country has been fighting Middle Eastern extremists on terrain known considerably more for its sand than for its water, having never heard of an Al Qaeda Armada, and our being now decades away from “Sink The Bismarck”, I begin to wonder, pre-kickoff, what exactly does the United States Navy do?
(Note: I am emboldened to pose such a query after reading an extended article in the latest Atlantic in which writer James Fallows opines that ever since the military has gone “all volunteer”, there has been a detectable drop-off of public criticism, compared to the criticism the military received when, because of the draft, we were all in it together, similar – this is not Fallows’ analogy, it’s mine – to when someone volunteers to have to over for dinner, you do not criticize their cooking.
Fallows believes our incomparable military might win more if they were faced with more scrupulous scrutiny, and it is in that patriotic service, that I inquire, in my ignorance, but in hopes it will inspire meaningful debate in the appropriate circles, in the contemporary context of combat, what precisely the United States Navy does.)
The game begins.
It’s the New England Patriots versus the Baltimore Ravens. Almost immediately, I find myself rooting involuntarily for the Patriots. And once again, the perennial, nagging question:
New England versus Baltimore. What difference does it make to me?
I have spent two days in New England, but the experience was hardly memorable enough to make me a lifelong enthusiast of their football team. I have never been to Baltimore, which I know is in Maryland, but to be honest, I would have difficulty pinpointing Maryland on a map, likely confusing it with Delaware. Which does not have a professional football team.
So there is no personal connection.
I am not particularly knowledgeable about either team. I cannot rattle of either’s season “won-loss” record. Of the fifty-three active players on their rosters, I can name exactly one player on each team – Tom Brady the New England quarterback and quarterback Joe Flacco of the Ravens.
And I cannot imagine being so petty as to root against a team because their quarterback’s name is Flacco. If anything, I should be rooting against the Patriots because of their sourpuss head coach Bill Belichick, not because his name is Belichick, but because one look at his unmitigated grimness and I feel compelled to reach for some Tums.
There is no logical sense to my reaction, why one team means more to me than the other. And yet, there is a palpable difference. The advancement of the ball by the Patriots makes me excited; the slightest accomplishment by the Ravens makes me noticeably wince.
All I know is that, mounting two separate two-touchdown comebacks, the Patriots take the lead and ultimately prevail. And I could not have felt happier if the Toronto Argonauts had captured the exalted Grey Cup. Well, that’s a little over the top, but you get excited that the team you’ve been pulling for though you have no idea why is victorious and it happens.
After the game, I am in the bathroom and, as I have elsewhere reported often occurs, standing over… the thing, I am the recipient of a clarifying illumination.
Suddenly, I know why I’d been rooting for the Patriots.
Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco is eight years younger than New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady who, at age thirty-seven, is approaching the finish of his illustrious career. Earlier in the week, I had heard a respected prognosticator confidently predicting that if he lost that game, though Brady might continue to play, he would be irrelevant as a factor in further championship success.
A loss that day, and Tom Brady was effectively washed up.
So there you have it.
I was not rooting for the Patriots that afternoon.
I was rooting for “old.”
And, on that day at least, “old” triumphantly kicked butt.
Apparently, football is more than what happens on the field.
It is also what happens in your head while you’re watching the game.