There is plenty to hate about the game we love. But to be an American football fan right now demands that you accept outrage along with the outrageously cool. And football is here again: The NFL. The Nasty Fun League. You know it. You hate it. You love it.
The current generation of Cirque du Soleil receivers has led the pro game to a point where every contest can turn on the grip generated by five fingers at the end of an outstretched arm attached to the shoulder of a man—Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, anybody—who has laid out fully, at full speed, in faith that every ball thrown his way is his—just his—for the taking.
The most joyous moment of sports revenge.
With kickoffs neutered, this moment—just hanging up there, nine or 10 times a game—remains shifty, quirky, fairly dangerous. A true game-changer.
With kickoffs neutered, every kick should be onside.
Thirty-three yards. The best—madness—is yet to come. Because, screw kickers.
Still the token everyman. And Roberto Aguayo, the rookie kicker who missed an extra point and a 32-yarder in the preseason, is hard not to love. But still: Screw kickers.
More than even the hockey hooligans, NFL fans paint their skin—not just their faces but all over. And not just at the stadium. These fans look either wicked (see: Raider Nation) or wickedly comical. These are the last tribes.
Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Ted Ginn Jr.: In the NFL, old miners never die. Or Niners. Or whiners.
Yes, it’s a setup—made for TV and social media and your phone, like everything these days—but every week of every season has a drama built into it, just for you, and has since April. Come on: They’re starting with a rematch of the Super Bowl.
Only the NFL could evolve past the point of absolute sudden death.
He shows up.
The man. Amen.
Drew Brees leads the war circle. He wants that job.
Eli Manning doesn't seem to care. Tony Romo either. Their signature gesture is a shrug. Winners don’t always lead the war circle.
Jacksonville. Buffalo. Oakland. Green Bay. These smallish, weather-prone, second-tier American cities have no business in the NFL. And yet they persist. Seems like they’ll be pretty damn great this year, too.
Helmets set entire cities, and fashion tastes, on rival frequencies of the American cultural aesthetic.
It makes the month of March bearable for football nerds. It gives you something to whine about at the donut shop, besides the price of crullers.
That is the average length of an NFL career, according to the Wall Street Journal. So, naturally, it takes four years to make the really big money in the NFL. You gotta weed ’em out, at the tipping point. Two point seven years.
Inexplicably, this is the top rating possible for a quarterback. That is perfection. So, yeah, Europe: It is that complicated.
The only relevant American track event until 2020.
Because it's the only American gathering that makes people—wild-eyed accountants, wired high school kids, a bus full of Philly fans—go nuts over full-on geekery, over their team picking the second-best cornerback from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Because in the NFL, it’s cool to be a nerd.
Nearly as big as the field below it. Impossible not to watch.
The insect perspective offered by a camera winching itself on crosswires over the field during prime-time games: Who ever thought it’d be nice to watch sports like a fly?
The NFL makes rules for headsets.
No commercial product advances the cause of technologic innovation like the NFL. Robot practice dummies. Microchipped balls. Pylon cams. Spider cams. Super slow-mo. First-down lines. Second-gen stats. Mic’d-up refs. Mic’d-up coaches. Mic’d-up linebackers. Huge carts full of tablets on every sideline. Replays monitored from distant cities. And more on the way, always.
Almost uniformly, pro football owners are wooden, typecast villains: comically self-important yachtsmen who covet every drop of water from the sea of profit upon which they sail freely. And their franchises represent every model of American business there is: old money, new money, top-down corporate wonks, maverick proprietors, the publicly owned and family-inherited. (Even Trump was a pro football owner, sorta.) You may revere the icy Robert Kraft, snicker at the tinkerings of Jerry Jones, hate the Bidwills, sneer at the shadow of Dan Snyder. But you follow them, and the telenovela of their profit sharings, because you can’t not.
You can always hear a dulcet tone when the ball hits the upright.
Even my mother knows when a receiver really cares.
Last province of the hefty athlete.
The truest team element of the game, especially in the pros, where the big man rules. Odd, isolated, underappreciated, O-lines are the Duck Dynasty of the best teams.
The gimmicks almost all have names that sound like short cons Bubbles and Johnny might’ve pulled on The Wire. Statue of Liberty. Picket fence. Wildcat. Flying wedge. End-around. Double reverse. Flea-flicker. Hook and ladder. The switcheroo.
Sweet and vicious.
You don't have to be smart to hate Tom Brady. But you can be. He enjoys running up the score. He wants to play. Into his 40s. So you can hate the fact that he isn't going anywhere.
Surprisingly hard to hate.
You aren’t allowed to hate Rob Gronkowski. He’s the version of yourself you wished you hadn’t left on the sandlot years ago. He is the bad knee you never came back from.
He can take the hate. He’s the scary dude you’re glad you left on the same sandlot a lifetime ago. He’ll ruin your knee, but he’s not as bad as he looks.
Weirdly, this has made him more likable.
Not well anyway.
Yes, it is completely contrived, headlined by rock ‘n’ roll fossils and semi-burnt-out pop stars. (You know, Bruno Mars: not that charming.) And somehow it has become the only national American concert, a pastime all its own. If you aren’t convinced that it can matter, see: Prince. Miami. In the rain. (Yeah, “Purple Rain”—we know.)
With apologies to Adele, can’t she just do it every year?
Take Joe Theismann’s leg. Look it up. Watch the clip. Notice Lawrence Taylor holding his hands against his head in disbelief. The game terrorizes us all.
The best thing to happen to watching football since eyeballs.
Root against it if you want, but it’s getting better.
Sellouts are the league’s unspoken headache. Just in case anyone forgets who's in charge of the NFL: It’s you.
The essential metaphor. Everybody understands it as their own.
Nothing smells better than a football field in late fall. Nothing waits with anticipation quite like a football on a plastic tee, alone, bobbing in the wind. Nothing is colder and then more alive. And we’re off.
Tom Chiarella, a former writer-at-large for Esquire, is a writer living outside Indianapolis and a long-suffering fan of the Washington football team. Follow him on Twitter: @chiareality
B/R Mag is an experimental, multiplatform digital sports magazine from Bleacher Report. It is a work in progress, and our growing team welcomes your feedback.