Sunday, October 11, 2015

NFL Week 5: Let's Get Caught Up

The National Football League season is already in its fifth week. The season, entering its second quarter, has been a strange one, particularly if you are Seahawks fan. At this point last year, the hard times were ahead for Seattle; now, Seahawks fans have essentially dodged a season-ending bullet with Kam Chancellor's ball punch of a paydirt-bound Megatron on Monday night.

At 2-2, things could be worse, though it is a long shot to think that the situation will improve going into Cincinnati this Sunday. Marshawn Lynch is out again with a strained hamstring. Seattle is going to have to find a way to run the ball; otherwise, Russell Wilson will be eaten alive by the Bengals front seven. It will be a good test of the Seahawks defense. I can't think of a more complete offense right now than Andy Dalton's. A.J. Green is awesome, and the Cinci running-back combo of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard is potent.

Let's get caught up on the season so far. First, two general comments. A guy, a labor politico of sorts, who survives by peddling seminars to unions, came into the office recently. He sat in the little reception area in front of my work station and waited for the head of the labor council to get off the phone and come out of her office and greet him. While he was waiting I took the opportunity to ask him, "Are you a Seahawks fan?"

This is my litmus test, a type of loyalty oath. Most people, believe it or not, say yes and then proceed to break down with acuity recent action. There are a few who beg off and say, "Well, yeah, but I don't really watch the games." This labor politico, which was surprising to me, admitted up front that he didn't follow the Seahawks, quite a liability for someone whose business is telling labor leaders how to connect with their membership.

I said to the guy, "Imagine if there was just one-quarter the interest in our political process as there was in the National Football League."

He stared back at me in a perturbed, confused manner. He didn't get it. The fact is that right now the athletes of the National Football League -- Kam Chancellor, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, A.J. Green, et al. -- are in the cultural vanguard. When I wore my Beast Mode hoodie on Friday, young people turned their heads as I passed by.

The music industry has been debased along with film. Neither can lead the masses as they used to. It is a dystopian world in which we live. But the gridiron is an idealized space where the heroes are untarnished (except for the New England Patriots). I can't remember a time -- and I've been following the NFL since 1975, when I was in sixth grade -- when the cultural cache of professional football athletes was this full.

Prior to last Monday night's Detroit-vs.-Seattle match-up I was in the grocery store. I live close to downtown in what many would describe as a hipster neighborhood. Never before have I seen so many young hipsters decked out in NFL jerseys. In the past, allegiance to the NFL home team was the provenance of the white, suburban working class. No longer. After Seattle's overtime Week 1 loss to St. Louis I went out for a run and was surprised to see the number of young people in Seahawks regalia glumly streaming out of house parties. Something different is happening here.

That's the first point. The National Football League is of enormous cultural importance now in the United States. I take it as proof that our political system is almost entirely bankrupt; the rapturous allegiance to the NFL is the observe of this bankruptcy, a hunger to believe in something that is authentic. And what is more real than a physical contest? Until our political system becomes more democratic and begins to address the many concerns of working people, I'm sure the NFL will continue its meteoric rise.

If the first point is that the NFL represents the cutting edge culturally in this country, then the second point is that it is simultaneously able to tap into an amazingly nourishing pool of nostalgia for a time when things were stable and prosperous, when every man was safely ensconced in his castle (and securely positioned in front of his television, usually in the fortress of the suburbs). I speak here of Thursday Night Football, at least the first nine weeks that are televised on CBS before retreating behind the paywall of NFL Network.

There is something about being a bachelor alone in his apartment at the end of the work week watching a primetime professional football game as the sun goes down and the room goes dark, particularly when the contests are close, as they have been the last two Thursdays -- Ravens vs. Steelers; Colts vs. Texans; it is a feeling of contentment, order, and tranquility, a lifeline back to previous generations of bachelors alone in t-shirts bathed in the phosphorescent glow from the TV screen, like a fictional Paul Drake watching a nighttime telecast of Norm Van Brocklin's Los Angeles Rams. One sleeps well after a night like that.

But this Sunday the story is about the unbeaten teams that remain. Let's hope the Seahawks knock off the Bengals; the loathsome Cowboys wallop the villainous Patriots; the Falcons keep rolling; the Raiders whip the Broncos; and the Packers best the Rams. This would leave three teams undefeated: Green Bay, Atlanta and Carolina (because of a bye).

Oh, and I wouldn't mind seeing the Lions give the Cardinals another loss.

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