Michaux: Big game feels a lot less super than it used to be

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I have never cared less.

 

Pardon the introspection here, but for the first time in my sports conscious life, any part of Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles that crosses my retinas will be out of professional obligation only. I’ll watch out of habit rather than any genuine interest in seeing the NFL crown a champion.

It’s more than Tom Brady and Patriots fatigue. The NFL and I are drifting apart. A relationship that more often than not has been held together by fantasy football in recent years is in peril. We may have reached the point of irreconcilable differences. I’m leaving it for a younger, more attractive model – college football.

I’m not alone, apparently. The NFL’s Nielsen ratings are down, falling 9.7 percent this regular season after dropping 8 percent last year. They’re still better than anything else in the world of sports, but they’re down enough that the NFL had to routinely offer “make-good” commercials for its advertisers when viewership targets weren’t reached.

A Wall Street Journal poll this week showed the NFL’s core audience of men aged 18 to 48 who follow the league closely has fallen from 75 to 51 percent from four years ago.

There are plenty of reasons why people are tuning out. The glut of league programming with Thursday, Sunday and Monday night games (and occasional mornings from London) has siphoned options and diluted the traditional appointment aspect of Sunday afternoon games.

Some people were turned off by players kneeling during the national anthem, buying into an anti-patriotic interpretation designed to score political points rather than understanding the frustrations that drove many players to exercise their First Amendment rights of peaceful protest in an effort to draw attention to social injustices.

Many are increasingly turned off by the omnipresent use of replay that has ruined the flow of games and blurred the line between what seems to be an obvious catch and what satisfies the ungainly rules defining a catch.

Most of all, there is a growing discomfort in the fact that players are suffering long-term damage to themselves all for our entertainment. According to league data, there were 281 concussions suffered from preseason through the playoffs – the most since the NFL finally started keeping score six years ago. Now that we know how the accumulation of those traumatic brain injuries can cause a degenerative disease known as CTE, it gets harder to justify our support.

Yet support it we do (and supporting college football makes us just as guilty on this front). More than a third of Americans watch the Super Bowl every year. It’s the closest thing we have to a truly communal national event. Americans will consume more than 1.3 billion chicken wings and more than 1 million pounds of guacamole today along with copious amounts of pizza and beer in celebration of our biggest gladiatorial spectacle.

Watching the Super Bowl has been the only constant ritual of my sports life, dating back to my first sporting memory of my childhood favorite Redskins losing to the perfect Dolphins on Jan. 14, 1973. It was the event that launched the discovery of big-time events with Secretariat and Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King and Hank Aaron capturing my attention over the ensuing year and cementing a lifelong fascination with sports.

While there have been more than a few skipped viewings of World Series, Wimbledons, Final Fours, Kentucky Derbys and Masters in the last 45 years, never once did anything stand in the way of Super Bowl Sunday. It’s been as religiously adhered to a staple as Christmas.

It never mattered who was playing. St. Louis vs. Tennessee held the same attraction as Pittsburgh vs. Dallas or any of the seven Roman numeraled games that featured my personal favorites Washington (pre-Daniel Snyder) and Carolina.

This year just feels different. Normally it would be easy to root for anyone who can stop the droning on of the Patriots dynasty, but it’s hard to climb aboard an Eagles bandwagon with an unlovable fan base that in one of their less vulgar moments famously threw snowballs at Santa.

Super Bowl LII feels like step one in dissolving the longest sporting union of my life. Being a dispassionate observer as a clinical journalist might make it easier to divest myself of fantasy football ownership next season.

With that link severed, it shouldn’t be that hard to join friends who’ve cut the cord from the NFL altogether.

Old habits of celebrating Super Bowl Sunday might prove impossible to break. But we don’t need it as reason to eat wings and guacamole on any given Sunday.

 

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