The Best and Worst of Football

This past weekend, I watched 2 entire football games and saw 1 touchdown. For reference, a typical football game will have maybe 6 touchdowns. Between 2 games over 7 hours, I saw 1 guy with the football in his hands in the endzone. Rough.

I watched the first game in-person at my 5-year college reunion, where Stanford lost to Colorado. I will not attempt to summarize the game any better than ESPN: “Sloppy Colorado holds off equally bad Stanford 10-5“. I watched the second game over pizza at my friend Tom’s place, where the Seahawks and Cardinals managed to both fail to win the game and ended in a 6-6 tie. Neither game had much of a highlight reel, and yet, I had very different feelings about both games.

After 6 years of dominance, Stanford football appears to be regressing this season. With a new quarterback in Ryan Burns and the returning Heisman runner-up in running back Christian McCaffrey, pre-season expectations were high for the team. However, 2 consecutive, brutal losses to UW and WSU reset expectations as fans settled in for the rest of the season.

Both offenses looked bad. Ryan Burns threw 3 interceptions and lost a fumble at the 5 yard line, which doesn’t count the other 2 almost-interceptions. Colorado kickers only made 1 of 4 field goal attempts. None of them looked particularly long. Besides a strategic safety into a muffed lateral at the end, the game was neither particularly interesting nor enjoyable to watch.

But at least there was a touchdown scored in that game. In the Seahawks-Cardinals game, neither team scored. The game looked to be a defensive struggle to the end, and the only way for it to end was… not to end by going to overtime when a blocked punt gave the Seahawks short field position to kick a field goal. In overtime, things looked bad when the Cardinals kicker missed a chip shot to win the game. He looked crushed until Hauschka’s chip shot kick, which is best summed up by Pete Carroll’s (Seahawks coach) reaction:

Yes, the game ended in a tie after both teams failed to win at the end of overtime. Everyone in the room yelled when Hauschka’s kick went wide, and we all agreed that it was the greatest game we had ever watched.

I spent most of both games bored and wishing that something would happen. Both games were full of missed field goals. Neither game showed much offense. Both games were slow. Neither game went my way (I own Fitzgerald in one of my leagues). Yet somehow, the combination of my attachment to Stanford and ambivalence about the NFL turned one into a disappointment and the other into a spectacle. The missed field goals spread throughout the game and the missed field goals at the end of overtime turned one into grind and the other into great theater.

The line between a forgettable, miserable game and the greatest game ever is surprisingly thin, but that’s pretty much what sports is. Sports seem pointless and arbitrary. They give rise to incredible emotion and total apathy. They’re often impenetrable to outsiders and generate no discernible progress in society.

And yet, Sports create memories that span a lifetime (or more for Cubs fans). They are true suspense beyond any fiction, where elation and total loss are often milliseconds or millimeters apart. They are capable of binding friends, cities, countries, and the world into shared experiences. They are the analogy for every life experience.

And they are more excellent reaction gifs.

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