I’m running out of gas on the NFL. I loved the NFL, and the Bears specifically, since I was 5 or 6 years old. I would go to games with my Dad, which was glorious. I remember 1985 very well — I was 11 — and I have loyally sat through the ups and downs ever since.
Lately, though, I’ve started to lose interest. I think it’s some combination of the product on the field — as Dennis Green once said, you can only take so many ridiculous losses — and the experience of the games. The NFL is no longer an improvement over sitting at home with Red Zone and wi-fi and time to cook and fantasy stats.
I’ve read that NFL attendance is waning on a wide scale, and I think I know what the problem is: It is the fans. I don’t listen to sports talk radio in the car — “Yeah, Mike, da problem wit da team is that alla players these days got participation trophies. We coddle athletes dese days. I’d like to see a buncha guys fired. Also concussions aren’t really that bad, so the players should stop being pansies and knock some heads like we did when I was a kid and I’m still out there loading UPS trucks just fine. I’ll hang up and listen” — so I’m certainly not going to subject myself to it in Sensurround.
I’m not heartless, of course. For maybe 10 years, the same guy sat behind us at Bear games. Older guy, maybe 70, who was always there, game in and game out, snow or sleet. Nothing gave him more joy in life than coming to see his beloved Bears and spending three hours on Sunday working himself into a towering, violent, expletive-filled rage at them. He was more dedicated to raging and frothing at the incompetence of his favorite team than I am to anything. He waited silently through bruising runs, defensive stands, and long touchdown passes, waiting — like a great actor timing his entrance — for a miscue.
Eventually, a field goal attempt would plink off an upright, or a long play would be negated by a meaningless penalty, or an opposing player would sweep up a turnover and celebrate, and our friend would burst into action. “BLEEP YOU, CUTLER, YOU STINK! STINK! GET OFF THE BLEEPING FIELD!” It didn’t matter if we were up three touchdowns. Let the offense fail to convert a third-and-one and “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING, FOX? YOU EXPLETIVE MORON! SOMEBODY FIRE THAT GUY!”
No player was safe. “ALSHON, YOU SUCK! TERRIBLE!” “WHAT KIND OF PASS RUSH WAS THAT? CUT HIM!”
I hadn’t seen him in a couple years. I knew what happened. I don’t know how, but I knew. He was sitting in front of his TV, in the preseason, and suffered a massive aneurysm rupture brought on by a meteoric rise in blood pressure. (I believe I have even pinpointed the play: A late-game catch-and-fumble by Kevin White.) A meaningless play in a meaningless game.
He was truly a poet. A bitter, profane, psychopathic poet. His rantings often reminded me of the film, A Christmas Story: “In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.”
I will admit, I found him annoying. But still, he’s been a heaping helping of obnoxious for a long time, and you get used to people. I feel I should have introduced myself at some point, shaken his hand, learned his name. I never knew what it was, but we called him “That Guy.”
“Hey, do you think I could take the 8-year-old to the game this weekend?”
“Sure, but remember our seats are in front of That Guy.”
I learned in December that his end was not as quick as I had thought. Apparently, he had time to draw his beloved grown son close to him as the light faded for the last time, and share his dying wish:
“Son, I am leaving you my season tickets. See to it that my work lives on.”