Enjoy the game? For the true fan, it’s all about agony

The New York Giants are in the Super Bowl. But for one obsessive, the question is what time to take the Ativan

Topics: Football, Editor's Picks, Super Bowl,

Enjoy the game? For the true fan, it's all about agony Ohio State football fans (Credit: AP)

“The truth is,” Nick Hornby wrote in “Fever Pitch,” his book about his obsession with Arsenal and British football, “for alarmingly large chunks of an average day, I am a moron.”

That’s a wonderful sentence by one of my favorite writers, but if Hornby is only a moron for only large chunks of the average day, he is doing a lot better than I am. I can honestly report that for the last few months I have been an absolute idiot for all but very small portions of the day.

Some football (American football) fans mistakenly assume that the season goes in a straight line, starting in August with pre-season games (wherein five of your team’s 10 best players will suffer season-ending injuries) and ending in February with the Super Bowl. But the true fan, the addicted and obsessive, the kind friends and spouses ought to be worried sick about, knows that the season doesn’t end. There is no start, there is no finish. It just is, and, like life, it ends when you do. This is why, when the New York Giants beat the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoff a few weeks ago in the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field (it was colder in my Manhattan apartment that day than it was in Green Bay, Wis.) and qualified for the NFC Championship game (which they won … no, let me put that a better way: WHICH THEY WON!!!) my wife looked at me and said, “Hey, you can relax now. They won the game.”

But I could not relax. I never can. There is never any respite.

The second the game ended and the Giants won, I had to begin worrying about the NEXT game. (I bet even the team’s offensive and defensive coordinators gave themselves a few hours before they started contemplating schemes for the following Sunday.) And, as soon as the Giants finished off the 49ers in San Francisco the following week, I began worrying about the next game, Super Bowl MLCCDIXXIV or whatever number it is, next Sunday against the New England Patriots.

I don’t know what it is like for most football fans, but for me a season isn’t about exultation or grief — it’s about anxiety.  The anxiety soars right before kickoff, lasts throughout the game, subsides a bit after the game, but then begins to climb the following morning. It’s like an airplane taking off, experiencing hours of gut-churning turbulence, and never quite landing.

The Giants-49ers game went into overtime. The game had a 6:30 p.m. time (well, that’s a Network TV 6:30 p.m. — you have to tack on an additional 15 minutes for the National Anthem and plane flyover and Bud Lite commercials). I almost always take half an Ambien on Sundays, especially winter/football Sundays, but with my favorite team fighting for their lives, I knew I would need a whole one. Not knowing the game was going into overtime, I mistimed the whole drug-dropping and wound up doing dishes at 1 in the morning. And already I was worrying. There was no time to celebrate. I worried about Bill Belichick, football’s own Dr. Strangelove, and Tom Brady and how to stop both Bob Gronkowski and Wes Welker; I worried about Gisele Bundchen and the fact that, since the Giants had experienced a spectacular season that was completely unforeseen, they were going to end up with an abysmally low first-round draft pick.  Yes, they had won but there was more work to be done.

And that’s what I mean about the season never ending. A team plays its first games in September and, if they’re good and if they’re lucky, is still playing in January and February. But it doesn’t stop there. Just when you think you can exhale and knock off for a few months, you have to worry about the draft, about players being re-signed or getting traded or quitting or shooting themselves in the leg at 5 in the morning at some disco that’s less than a mile away from your house that you never even knew existed.  You worry about your quarterback going skiing and tearing his Achilles’ tendon or about Victor Cruz, the Giants exciting new wide receiver, destroying his ACL salsa-ing on “Dancing With the Stars.” Being a fan means nonstop, all-year, around-the-clock worrying — it means worrying when you’re watching baseball in July. ESPN, even in the off-season (ha! Like there is an off-season), airs a show about the NFL every weekday and somehow, when nothing is happening, when there is no news to report, somehow manages to fill an hour. In February comes the NFL Scouting Combine, where fresh-out-of-college football players gather to get weighed, measured, taped, have their intelligence tested, get grilled about their dreams, hopes, fears and drug use and sexual preferences. In April comes the NFL Draft — I will watch a lot it — where teams pick their stars, pleasant surprises and disappointments of the future. Then come the mini-camps and pre-season, and then the teams make their cuts, whittle themselves of their veterans who can no longer do it and of their kids who never would. And then the real season begins. And on and on and on.

It brings to mind Joni Mitchell singing that we’re captive on the carousel of time. But Joni Mitchell is Canadian and probably likes hockey. Football is a roller-coaster ride that never ends, the kind that you think will fly off the rails and land you into the face of a mountain.

The day after the Giants beat the 49ers, I woke up and my very first thoughts were about the Giants, about the game they’d played in rain-soaked San Francisco, and about how they’d beaten the Packers in Green Bay the week before and the Falcons in Atlanta the week before that.  As the day wore on, the Giants weren’t off my mind for a minute. As a matter of fact I think I can say that lately the average minute of mine can be broken down this way:

15 seconds: being happy the Giants won and are in the Super Bowl

40 seconds: worrying about the Super Bowl, about the 2012/2013 season and beyond

5 seconds: other shit

The last time the Giants were in the Super Bowl was in 2008. My wife was very pregnant at the time but she and I had a deal, a deal we’d worked out in advance of even conceiving: She could not go into labor during the Super Bowl. If she did so, she would have to go to the hospital with one of her sisters … or maybe the taxi driver could help her along. Well, she and the fetus agreed to this and the Giants won. Even then, right after the game, she asked me what was wrong. I believe I said something like, “I don’t think they’re going to be able to repeat next year and I’m still not a Tom Coughlin fan.” (Our baby came along a few weeks later — my wife was late and had to be induced — and I somehow resisted the impulse to name our daughter Eli or Plaxico.)

So there is little joy in the Mudville of the true football fan. For every minute of exultation, if you are lucky enough to be able to exult, there comes about two hours of dread.

If you, the reader, do not believe me then I ask you to do this: Go to a sports bar in Pittsburgh when the Steelers are playing, or to one in Boston when the Patriots are playing, or in Philly when the Iggles are playing. If the home team loses, look at the players on the field congratulating the winning team, patting their helmets and shaking hands. Quite often, players on the losing team will be … smiling. That’s right.  Smiling.  They just lost a game and they’re already over it. Now look at the fans in the bar and tell me how many smiles you see.

I’m convinced that fans take the game more seriously than the players do, and it might be because of this: The players are paid with money but the wages of fandom is fear. Money you save or squander, but anxiety is forever.

At my Super Bowl party this year, the choice of wings will be: mild, spicy, five-alarm and Ativan. Guess which ones I’m going for.

Ted Heller's latest novel, "Pocket Kings," will be published in March. He is also the author of the novels "Slab Rat" and "Funnymen."

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>