I didn’t grow up watching football. My family held no allegiance to any college or pro team, and except for tossing a few nerf balls I had no interest in the game whatsoever until I was 10 and it became clear that with my size football was a logical sport for me to pursue. From 10 to 13 I became more than a little obsessed. I became a regular at pickup games around town where I would have to count to the approved number of Mississippis before I could take off after the quarterback or take a turn as a Fridge type running back seeing how long I could go before the defense finally gang tackled me. I never played Pop Warner or learned anything more than basic rules, but I enjoyed myself and football gave me fond memories of Saturdays spent on makeshift backyard gridirons.
Unfortunately real football wasn’t as fun. When I started playing on the Modified squad in 7th grade I quickly learned that rules and technique were not my forte. I wasn’t a good fit for the culture either, since even during pickup games I cared more about having fun than competing and winning. After a few weeks of practice before I even played in a game I took a hit that dislocated my knee and took me out for the season. I didn’t go back, I found more suitable ways to spend my time. Football gave me a taste of reality and a left kneecap that still sometimes pops out of place.
Even though organized football wasn’t for me I did eventually gain an understanding of how things worked and spent more time trying to watch games. Growing up in the heart of Giants territory I wanted to be different and find a way to fly my own flag, I was also a huge SNL fan so it was only logical that I stared to follow the Chicago Bears. In this pre internet time it was much harder to do, so I was at best a casual fan, but during college things changed. Around my 2nd year I really fell down the football rabbit hole. NFL blogs and programming were everywhere and spending hours a day catching up on news and following individual players was a perfect procrastination device so I didn’t spend time studying the things that actually mattered. For someone who was the consummate slacker having an outlet other than school was a godsend, and football was cheaper than travel or beer which were my only other obsessions. I didn’t play fantasy because I was a pretentious asshole and labeled myself a “purist” who cared about the integrity of the game rather than just stats. I got really into the communal aspect of everything gathering to watch games, rip on each other’s teams, and obsess over something that was so low impact on a grand scale. Hell one year I even spent an entire April weekend sitting on a couch with my buddy Jim and watching the draft while half heartedly studying for finals. In a high stress time football was a very necessary route to relaxation, and a fun reprieve from the grind of school.
After graduation I stopped obsessing over everything football, and focused more just on the Bears. I would wake up every morning to check profootballtalk and espn, and may have been the only person in Vermont who subscribed to the Chicago Tribune and Sun Times online. At them time I didn’t have any friends in Vermont so I never went out and watched games, but found my way into online communities and and blogs all from the comfort of my own home. Every Sunday for the first three years after graduation I had one of three options, I would be at work listening to the game on my phone, I would be at home streaming the radio broadcast while obsessively checking NFL.com to watch the little progress bar move across the screen, or I would drive to Albany to sit at Graneys and watch the games with Goose, Aaron J, and whoever else would swing by. While I narrowed my scope I definitely increased my intensity, plus since I had more disposable income I was now the owner of a ton of Bears clothes and swag. In a time when I was pretty lonely, football gave me a community.
In the fall of 2014 things started to change. I was working a job where I had weekends off and started picking up new hobbies and obsessions. A lot of my friends moved out of Albany too, making the trip back just for the the game less worthwhile. Rather than spending every Sunday worrying about who was going to win I started spending more time having a life. I cut down on the number of websites I visited, phased out of the online commentary, and let my newspaper subscriptions lapse. Over time I cut back more and more, and during 2017 I don’t recall watching more than 4 games, a few of those only in passing. In truth it didn’t hurt that the Bears were painfully bad to watch, and that after almost a decade of mediocrity I was losing my patience. But that was ok, I was growing up and moving on, every day caring less and less about sports, the NFL, and the Chicago Bears.
Then they traded for Khalil Mack, and I felt a flutter of excitement. Then they played the holier than thou Packers on the first Sunday Night Football game and dominated most of the game before losing because Aaron Rodgers did Aaron Rodgers things. And all of a sudden I was right back into it. Pulling over while driving back from a wedding to check the scores, checking prices on Bears gear, making fun of other people’s teams for being terrible, reading every article that I could, and generally being back in the swing of things. This football season was fun for the first time in a long while. I cared, I felt good when my team was winning and bad when they dropped a game, I encouraged their celebrations (especially the two fat guy touchdowns of the season), and for a while football mattered again. It was a fun few months.
Last week the Bears lost to the Eagles in the wild card round of the playoffs. I watched the first half at a bar around the corner, wearing Bears gear in public during the playoffs was fun. I talked some shit to some Eagles fans. I came home and streamed the second half. In the last few seconds of the game I was texting with a friend who’s second favorite team is the Bears and we were talking about how good the game was. It was down to one 43 yard field goal for the win, but I remarked that the Bears had the worst kicker in football who had already hit the goalposts with 5 kicks this season, and said “If he doinks it there will be blood.” a few seconds later she sent me a text asking if I was ok. My stream was on a 30 second delay, he had doinked the ball off the goalpost again, Bears lose, Eagles win, we were out of the playoffs.
In that moment something broke in me. Not because I was expecting a Super Bowl win and was crushed, but because I didn’t feel anything at all. It was a great season, I enjoyed every moment of it, and it ended, as all things must end. The next morning instead of getting up and checking all the websites I deleted the bookmarks from my phone, and I feel pretty happy about that. I feel like this last season was the perfect way to wrap up a decades long obsession. I am sure that I will watch games in the future, and will rip on people for their teams of choice, and will probably even root for the Bears if I have the chance, but I won’t obsess over the game any more. Football has given me a lot over the years, and I am grateful for that. Like many NFL players, when you hit your mid 30’s you find that football is telling you that it is time to walk away,