There is a deadness to early February, a cloak of despair that settles over everything immediately after the first Sunday evening of the month. Once the tortilla chips are gone and the bean dip tray emptied, we’re left with the sobering reality of a life without football. (And no, the NFL scouting combine doesn’t count.)
People who aren’t football fans don’t appreciate the depth of pain one experiences as the Super Bowl post-game show ends. They insist we’re being overly dramatic when describing the end of the season, that we’re blowing things out of proportion. I don’t want to go overboard here, so I’ll place this in the context of Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the five stages of grief she identified as the result of her work with terminally ill patients.
The initial reaction to the horrible fact that we’ve just seen our last televised football game for five months is denial. In this stage, we hope our program guides are simply mistaken in replacing Sunday afternoon football with reruns of Law & Order. We cling to the hope that someone will schedule one more college all-star game to ease the pain.
We enter the second stage of grief (anger) when we keep seeing Sam Waterston and Angie Harmon during game time instead of Terry Bradshaw and Erin Andrews. After several weeks, we can no longer continue in denial. We ask pointed questions like, “Why me? This isn’t fair!” or “Who is to blame for this?” or “Who knew every television drama crime scene was punctuated with so much semen?”
The third stage is called bargaining, where we indulge in the fruitless hope that we can somehow avoid the cause of our grief. “If Roger Goodell extends the regular season by two games, I’ll pay the ticket increases without setting fire to his offices.” We negotiate with ourselves, promising the impossible in an attempt to stave off the inevitable: “If only they’d let the New York Giants play the Patriots in a winner-take-all game, I’d get a tattoo of the winning quarterback on my ankle!”
Then depression sets in. In this fourth stage, the despairing football fan is left to ponder whether life without the greatest of American sports is worth the trouble. “I’m too sad to bother shoveling snow today,” or “Clemson can claim to be national champions for a full year, so what’s the point in living?” or “If football can be taken away so easily, it’s probably time to look into soccer.” As you can see, this is a particularly dangerous stage.
With any luck, in time we move on to the fifth and final stage of grief: acceptance. We embrace the inevitable and come to grips with the fact that spring football was simply never meant to be. If we cannot adopt the hard lessons of the XFL, we are doomed to repeat the madness of the “opening scramble” in lieu of a coin toss. Besides, nothing good came from the last season of the USFL. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. (That sound you just heard was me winking at all you New Jersey Generals fans.)
This last stage leaves us with the stability and emotional maturity to be more open to the idea that an “offseason” might be a good time to schedule surgeries, mend broken bones, and properly address all those unidentified concussions. Heck, maybe these five months are a great opportunity to attend required court appearances without missing practice!
Mourning the loss of our beloved football is a thing, people. Please be understanding as we stumble our way through these stages, at least until March Madness provides a faint distraction. We’ll be better people for learning to carry on despite our loss … until August, anyway. Then we can ditch all this touchy-feely stuff as soon as the first preseason kickoff arrives.