If You Air It, They Will Come

As a neutral party during Super Bowl XLVIII, I was one of the tens of millions of disappointed viewers who watched as the advertised “best defense vs. best offense” slugfest devolved into something far more reminiscent of a middle school fight where only one of the participants had been through puberty. The sole positive effect of this letdown was that we had about a week’s buffer after the game ended where we were still upset that it had been underwhelming, and we couldn’t focus on the fact football was over. The realization usually hits when the Lombardi trophy ceremony ends, and the local news starts with a small blurb about the game, followed by whatever incisive exposé about vermin-infested local eateries that they had as their ace in the hole for when viewership was high. The next few Sundays are invariably uneventful. Decks are refinished, seasonal churchgoers spring from the earth, national interest in seven layer dip drops precipitously. In short, nothing good happens. Football’s good. For example, I’m a Dolphins fan, and I still think football is good, even considering that they’ve only managed not to disappoint me once, and that was when I found out Dan Marino was in a Hootie and the Blowfish video.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to try to fill the Helga Pataki-esque football-shaped hole in your heart, because NFL Network has to fill their air year-round with something. NFL beat reporters and bloggers need to talk about something, and Mel Kiper Jr. has to emerge from his hibernation cocoon already flawlessly coiffed and dressed to do something. There’s a multi-billion dollar football industry that has to keep lumbering along in the lean months, and millions of willing diners are prepared to eat whatever flavorless and minimally nutritive Dickensian football gruel is offered to them.

The football offseason begins with the thorough evaluation of prospective NFL talent from the college ranks. During this process, many observers slave selflessly over their keyboards give their input on the purported “character issues” of men they will never meet, lambaste extremely fast people for being too slow, and THEN talk about their Wonderlic scores. Christmas for the purveyors of this #analysis is the NFL Combine, which began last Wednesday in Indianapolis (which, in its language of origin, means “whatever, I guess we’ll have it there, it’s the middle kinda.”) NFL Network, naturally, offers comically exhaustive coverage of the event, presumably for the two living people who know what a good three-cone drill looks like or who like to watch offensive tackles from the Sun Belt run the 40-yard dash. On top of gauging the physical fitness of incoming players at the event, all 32 NFL teams subject prospects to a barrage of questions, some of which have been unambiguously and wholly inappropriate (see Bryant, Dez.) This notwithstanding, though, NFL executives are at least trying to choose new, highly-compensated employees to do the most important work done by their organizations, and their decisions could mean the difference between praise and unemployment. Regardless of how many mock drafts you’ve mapped out in your mind, or how many team-logo-emblazoned coasters you may own, this kind of investment will never be reasonable for you. But you watch, because it’s there to watch, and a ton of people seem to think it’s important.

Then, with your combine notes in hand, you can plot out your team’s ideal draft strategy and YouTube search college players you think your team should target. You can pore over everything anyone interested in the topic has to say. There are limitless possibilities, really, and in the three months between the combine and the draft, you will surely address each of them in your head. Doesn’t matter. The team you like is going to deviate stupendously from the path you’ve suggested for them, pick a punter in the third round, not pick any of the players you need until the fifth, use a supplemental pick on a player whose name makes him sounds like a Thundercats villain, and trade away the only player whose jersey you own for a late-round pick. It’s almost like the draft war room made no effort to avail itself of your knowledge at all.

And look, it’s free agency season, too! Everyone with a horse in the race goes through the following mad libs at least a thousand times during free agency season:

1) Hey! We need a (position). (Well-known name) is available! I think he can rebound after he had that (awful, gruesome injury) last year! We can be getting him on the phone now! What’s taking these people so long!

2) Hey! (Talented skill position player with attitude problems) just needs a place where people understand him and he can flourish! (Team you go for, and only team you go for) has the perfect environment to foster that! WE NEED PLAYMAKERS!

3) We need to make a splash, (other team) couldn’t keep (guy who had one good season), we gotta make a move on him, because you don’t find that kind of (skill that the guy had last season and will never regain if you sign him) on the open market every day!

The team you root for will sign all three of these guys. You will be pleased. Guy #1 will break a rib coughing moments after the ink dried on his contract and be out until Week 6. Guy #2 and Guy #3 will get in a fistfight in the locker room after a game of Risk ends with Guy #3 losing ten percent of his contract’s guaranteed money after Guy #2 shrewdly allocates his men to surround Guy #3’s stronghold in Irkutsk. You will no longer be pleased.

Before you ask, the Toronto Argonauts don’t face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL season opener until June 9.