I realize we’re still supposed to romanticize the heck out of baseball in this country—Kevin Costner, cornfields, Robert Redford, Wonderboy, Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, James Earl Jones, etc.
That’s especially the case when it comes to Major League Baseball’s Opening Day—“Juuuust a bit outside.” Yes, sir, nothing like the start of a baseball season...if you live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, St. Louis or Boston. But, I’m sorry, when it comes to the small market teams and the small market fans, MLB left them behind a long time ago. I don’t really feel sorry for the small market teams because their owners and players have never seemed all that interested in fighting for a system that would even the playing field. I do feel bad for fans of small-market teams, that’s especially the case for yours truly; I feel sorry for the fact that I’m truly a die-hard fan of baseball who has been underserved for three decades thanks to MLB’s lack of a salary cap. You might not be feeling quite that way right now if you’re a baseball fan in Milwaukee, Tampa or even Cincinnati. But just wait for that marginalized feeling to return, if not this year, then certainly in the near future.
That’s enough about that, and the peanuts and crackerjacks.
Let’s talk about a league that truly cares about its fans. I’m talking about the National Football League. Does it really just care about our dollars and eyeballs for ratings? Sure, but I could care less what the league’s true motivations are. I just know that the NFL has had a system in place since the 1960s that makes it possible for all of its teams to compete if the front office and coaching are on point.
If all the teams have an equal chance to compete, that means all the fans feel like honored guests at the party.
The NFL’s season kicked off on Thursday, September 9, when the defending-champion Buccaneers defeated the visiting Cowboys on a last-second field goal. I watched as much of that game as humanly possible. I continued my NFL viewing experience a few days later when my Steelers upset the Bills at Highmark Stadium. “Can you believe that, T.J.?” my brother asked me as we spoke on the phone after the game. He tried calling me right after Miles Killebrew’s blocked punt and Ulysees Gilbert III’s subsequent scoop and score midway through the fourth quarter, but I was having none of it. My brother’s television package is like three plays ahead of my Comcast package, and I wasn’t about to have my viewing experience ruined by spoilers.
Other than speaking to my brother on the phone after the game, and texting back and forth with others during it, it was just me, myself and I, as I watched Pittsburgh’s 2021 campaign kick off in the most pleasant way possible. I can’t remember the last time I took in a Week 1 Steelers game by myself, but it kind of took me back to when I was a kid and watched most Steelers’ games alone. What I loved most about Sunday’s game was the 1 p.m. start time. I know some don’t agree with this, but there’s just something about an NFL game being played at 1 p.m. on a Sunday; this is especially the case in the fall when the leaves are turning brown and the air has a crispness to it. The air was more muggy than crispy in Pittsburgh on Sunday, but it was still a great day for some Steelers’ football.
It was a great day for football, in general. This is why I rolled right into the next game at 4:25. Or should I say games? That’s right, while the Browns were taking on the Chiefs on CBS, the Saints kicked off their season against the Packers over on Fox.
I flipped back and forth for a bit until I realized that Green Bay was in the throes of being blown out and Aaron Rodgers was unwittingly helping social media accumulate a week’s worth of meme-worthy facial expressions.
I continued my NFL Opening Weekend later that night by watching the Rams and Bears duke it out on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
And even though I only have basic cable, I managed to watch the Monday Night Game between the Ravens and Raiders on ESPN the very next night—a thrilling overtime matchup that’s already being called the game of the year (Well, duh!). That was certainly a great way to wrap up the NFL’s Opening Weekend. Speaking of the MNF package, I was so into professional football this past weekend, I was sad to see that ESPN had done away with its traditional Week 1 Monday night doubleheader.
I realize I’m not likely going to be able to sustain this passion I currently have for the 2021 NFL season. My love for each season usually ebbs and flows over the course of the year before maxing out again by the postseason.
But I plan on riding this current wave for as long as I can. I want to watch the 1 p.m. games, the 4 p.m. games, Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football. Heck, I think I may even be excited about Thursday Night Football—the candy corn of the NFL’s weekly schedule.
The NFL offseason is a long one, and the start of every new campaign is truly our reward.
Major League Baseball can pretend it’s America’s pastime in the movies, but the National Football League has been this country’s true sports passion since before I was even born.
Are you ready for some (more) football? I know I am.