Thursday, September 5, 2013

The NFL Sunday Ritual - A Newborn Meets Her REAL Parents

A couple of years ago I was talking to a colleague at lunch about her fiancĂ©, who she’d known for six months. She told me she was having second thoughts about the wedding. She looked me in the eye and said, “What is it with this football stuff? He’s not the same person anymore.” It turns out they met in March and dated for six months in an NFL-free world of romance and bliss. Just like in the movies. She had no idea he was concealing an inner maniac. This kind of obsessive fandom isn’t uncommon, but I thought it was funny (sorry, but that was my honest reaction to her very real pain), that the timing of their relationship would mask this man’s true nature for so long.

This is about to happen to my daughter.

She has been under the impression, these nine weeks she’s been alive, that she lives with two rational, competent people. She is fed, clothed, and not dropped on a daily basis. They play with her, sing to her, and invite people over to admire her. This week she gets her first real reality check. It turns out, Little One, that Mom and Dad are raving anti-social lunatics. They drink, they gamble, and they gorge themselves on homemade bacon cheddar biscuits. They root for the godforsaken Arizona Cardinals. Your mother, the one who serenades you at bath time, will now be seen pacing with a clipboard, making tally marks, and saying things like, “I forget, do sacks count as negative rushing yards?” And your father, the one who steadfastly changes your diapers any time, day or night, will no longer be able to perform this essential task as his hands have been replaced with cold blue metallic cylinders.

The ritual has been refined these past six years, as we’ve built additions onto this degenerate’s house of cards. It started with Cardinals season tickets. We shared an eight-game package with another couple and drove from Los Angeles to Phoenix four times a year. Here’s what that looks like. Get up early on Saturday morning and escape the city before the traffic can establish itself. Drive through the brutal monotony of the Mohave Desert to a date with bloated digestive destiny—the Taco Bell in Blythe. Continue east into Arizona, listening, of course, to an endless stream of NFL-related podcasts while the wife squirts fire sauce onto my Crunchwrap Supreme. Arrive in Phoenix and hang out with friends and family (eat and drink and eat and drink). Go to bed. Wake up in the middle of the night with gurgling intestines. Curse the fact that the wife’s parents insist on sleeping with their bedroom door open. Suffer. Wake up dehydrated and cramped. Drive to the stadium and hang out with friends (eat and drink and eat and drink and throw a football and stand in line for a Phoenix-heat affected Port-o-Potty. Watch a game. Curse the fact that they play Miley Cyrus tunes in the stadium during TV time outs. Stop drinking at half-time. Lose the game. Drive home to Los Angeles listening to the Sunday Night Football broadcast.  Got to sleep. Wake up. Go to work.

Tell no one.

The non-travel weekends ritual started sanely enough, with my wife and I strolling down to a local sports bar and fighting to get the Cardinals’ game on TV. Drinking and eating and eating and drinking, and walking home to watch the second-half of the second game.  This got real expensive. So we added the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package, locked the doors and windows, turned off the lights, and spiraled down into a web of madness, gluttony, and ribald fandom.

Then came the online fantasy contests, the survivor pools and Pro Pick ‘ems. Contests with friends. Contests at work. Contests with neighbors. My obsession was stoked by a huge dose of beginners luck when I won $1200 the first time I played. So now there’s a full schedule of weekly pick deadlines and payments to submit. Occasional winnings to harass out of various sore losers in my life. A whole universe of unnecessary stress and obligation.

But somehow this all just didn’t seem sufficiently deviant. Something was missing. One day, in between the afternoon game and the night game, in between remarks about Bob Costas’ anti-aging regiment, my wife turned to me and slurred, “Ya know what’s missing from our lives? Gambling losses.” I put down my butter knife and kissed her.

So we added a couple trips to Vegas to the ritual. As much fun as it was hanging out in smoky sports books with all the backwards baseball caps, basketball shorts, and cigarettes-behind-the-ear, we had to admit that there really are not as many good places to watch a full day’s worth of NFL games in Las Vegas as one would expect. Not that we could find. Nothing so nice as our local sports bar, and we still has to fight to get Cardinals games on with volume. If only there was a way to gamble on football without having to go to Vegas…

Which brings us back to Mommy pacing the living room with her clipboard while Daddy slams Miller Lites to replenish moisture lost from the nervous gambling sweats.

Or, maybe it will be different this year. Maybe the Little One’s presence in our lives will cause us to rethink our priorities and consider the impact our behavior will have on her future. The fact that she owns zero Arizona Cardinals onesies indicates there may still be shreds of rationality lurking beneath our sagging couch cushions. Gone as well this year are our Cardinals tickets, though this has more to do with our tailgating buddies leaving town than it does with responsible parenting. On the other hand, it’s looking like full steam ahead with the bacon cheddar lite beer triple teaser parlay bonanza.

At least there’s no fantasy football league in my life. I may be an irresponsible hedonistic degenerate, with a complete lack of will power and a busted moral compass. But I’m not a loser.

And don’t fret, Little One. Your dad exaggerates for effect. Your dad writes a satirical, self-deprecating blog post. He would never actually gamble online, or drink a lot, or root for the Arizona Cardinals. Or follow their punter on Twitter. Or watch San Diego Chargers pre-season games to see what Ken Whisenhunt looks like in pale blue and yellow. Or completely stop watching baseball even though his home team is on a historic run and could very well win the World’s Series. That’s just not your father.