It is the time of year when we put the holiday season behind us; a time when we suck in our stomachs, leave the cozy confines of our homes, go back out into the working world, purchase some beer, return to our homes, lie down in front of our TVs and let our stomachs protrude back out.
It's time for the pro football playoffs.
I love to watch football on TV, and I will tell you exactly why: I have no idea. Perhaps the appeal of this violent game stems from some basic biological urge that guys have, dating back millions of years to when primitive spear-carrying men would go into the forest to hunt game for their families, and their very survival depended on their ability to operate a remote control.
Whatever the attraction is, a lot of women seem to be immune to it. I have seen women walk right past a TV set with a football game on and -- this always amazes me -- not stop to watch, even if the TV is showing replays of what guys call a "good hit," which is a tackle that causes at least one major internal organ to actually fly out of a player's body. The average guy cannot ignore something of this importance. He is going to stop and watch, even if he's supposed to be doing something else, such as reporting that his house is on fire.
Every Thanksgiving, my family attends a gathering at the home of our friends Gene Weingarten and Arlene Reidy. The women all gather in one room and talk about careers, relationships, world events, etc., while the guys, most of whom see each other only once a year, all gather in front of the TV and stare, cowlike, at the football game. We even watch the pickup-truck commercials, despite the fact that most of us are journalists who rarely haul any payload larger than, say, a bagel. We do not talk, except to analyze the fine points of the game.
First guy: Whoa! Look at that! What is that?
Second guy: I think that's his spleen.
Third guy: No, a spleen that travels that far is going to rupture. That has to be a kidney.
I don't want you to think that all we guys do at this gathering is watch football. We also play football, in the back yard. It's a demanding game. For one thing, each player has recently consumed his weight in onion dip. For another thing, the Weingarten-Reidy yard is not a regulation football field: It is a small hillside covered with thousands of regulation dog doots, provided courtesy of two large, high-output, retriever-style dogs, Harry Truman and Clementine, who add to the complexity of the game by racing around in frantic circles at high speeds, like subatomic particles in the Superconducting Super Collider, but not as intelligent.
We play Standard Backyard Touch Football Rules, which require that, on each down, the offensive players must spend a minimum of five minutes in the huddle, devising a pass play more complex than the Clinton health plan, calling for curls, hooks, slants, feints, cutbacks, laterals, running all the way around the house, diving into the hammock, giving the ball to a small child and instructing the child to cry if an opposing player comes near, etc.
When the ball is snapped, everybody forgets about the play and concentrates on (a) not falling down, and (b) avoiding the pass rush, which is a threat to players on both sides inasmuch as it is provided by Harry Truman, a relentless competitor who will definitely bite your leg.
The main difference between our games and pro football is that sometimes we score a touchdown. This virtually never happens in the NFL. The referees won't allow it. They're jealous of the players, because the players get to wear sleek athletic uniforms, whereas the referees have to wear dorky little hats and pants that make them appear to have enormous butts. So if a player scores a touchdown, the referees immediately call it back and make a complex announcement over the loudspeakers ("OK, we have holding on No. 84, which is offset by an illegal parameter on No. 73, which is compounded by a failure to declare non-accruable dividend income on the part of No. 143, although this is somewhat mitigated by . . .").
My suggestions for making the NFL more exciting are:
1. Allow the refs to wear cool uniforms and participate in end-zone dances, or
2. Allow the players to tackle the referees. ("OK, we have -- wham.")
Speaking on behalf of a lot of guys, I urge the owners to consider these sensible changes. Also, while they're up, they should get me a beer.