A Fictional Account of the Obsession of Football (And "What to Do About It.")
by Mark Goodson
Tony wore a red plaid shirt and sunk into the leader’s chair, a brown recliner.
The brim to his black biker’s hat hung over his eyes and an unshaven face—his scruff an uneven sprinkling of white and black hair, like salt and pepper over cooked steak.
“My name is Tony, and I’m a football fan-addict.”
“Hey everyone. I see a lot of new faces out there tonight. So I think I’ll take a moment to dispel some myths that are circulating about who we are.”
“We are a group of men,” Tony paused and looked to Pauline who sat in a window cut-out, blowing cigarette smoke out into the night, “and women, who do not find it necessary to watch football to give our lives a sense of thrill or purpose. We are not marriage counsellors, although many a member has recovered their marriage by following our suggestions. We are not psychiatrists, although members claim a restoration of sanity. We have no political or religious or media affiliation, even though Hank over there’s got more news on the state of our sad nation than is fit to print.”
A chuckle came from the room, a side annex to a Presbyterian church. The walls were lined with books, mostly in the religious canon, and furniture that looked like a Salvation Army showcase, mismatched and made comfortable over years of wear.
“We are here together,” Tony said, “because our football fanaticism has dominated our life. Since the advent of the NFL App, a year-round NFL cable channel, and a college bowl schedule that fills three calendar weeks, we have been overwhelmed. It has taken hold of us. Left us no time to be fathers, husbands, employees—”
An “Ahem,” came from the window. “Or mothers too . . . you dumb fuck,” said Pauline. Half the room laughed.
“Yes, or mothers,” Tony said. “Tonight, we have a treat. Bill here has been two years without watching a game, checking a score, or even reading Bleacher Report. He is here to tell us how he did it. Bill,” Tony turned to the chair next to him, “the meeting is yours.”
“Thanks Tony. My name is Bill and I’m a football fan-addict.”
“Hi Bill,” said the room.
“Two years ago today was a great line-up of Sunday NFL football. It started with a 9 a.m. London kick-off, Raiders vs Chiefs, and ended with the Sunday night-cap, great rivalry game, Packers-Vikings. That was the last time I watched football on T.V. I’ll never forget the date because it is also,” Bill paused in the yellow and brown striped arm-chair. He sniffled and wiped some nasal discharge with his gray hoodie, “my son’s birthday. When the third quarter of the Raider’s game started, I told my wife I was sick. I told her I couldn’t go to Chuck E Cheese for his party. I couldn’t leave the couch. Something wouldn’t let me,” he paused.
Tony handed Bill some tissues from the Kleenex box on the table. “Thanks,” said Bill. “See, what Tony and you men taught me,” Pauline scoffed audibly, “ is that I can’t control what I watch when I start watching. I need to stop watching. Period. That’s the simple answer. And the sooner you understand that, the better. For some of us—it’s too late,” Bill paused again.
Tony leaned forward in his seat and pat Bill on the back. “Tell them Bill. That’s why we’re here.”
Bill nodded. He took the neck of his gray hoodie and wiped his entire face in a dramatic swipe. “When my wife and my boy got home that day, and I was on that damn couch, with a plate of nachos under my chin, my wife said ‘that’s it’ and she took the boy away to her mother’s. That was the last day my wife and child were in my home.”
Heads nodded around the room. Pauline hadn’t taken a drag of her cigarette which was becoming like an ashy snake between between her fingers.
“What do I do on Sunday’s now?” Bill asked, causing several in the room to lean forward from their chairs. “I excersize. I play football. Seven on seven, old man league type stuff. And on Monday night’s? I come right to this room every week and hear what other people do when they’re not watching football. During the Thursday night showcase? That’s my night with my boy. I take him to dinner.
“And maybe my wife will have me back. I tell her I stopped watching. But I made so many promises in the past, she doesn’t believe me. She sees I’m different, though. She says things like, ‘you look good.’ But here’s the crazy part. I’m not doing this for them. I may get them back, I may not. But it won’t change why I’m in this chair. I’m doing this for me.”
A round of applause followed with some murmurs of “that’s right” and “that’s it,” before Tony took the meeting back under his control. “Who else would like to share?”
A man in a blue suit raised his hand. “I’ll share,” he said. The thick knot of his red tie was loose and off-center. “I’m Steve. I’m a football head.”
“Hi Steve,” said the room.
“I’m new to this sharing thing so bare with me.”
“There is no wrong way to share,” Tony said.
“Well here it goes,” began Steve. “I knew I had a problem on Thanksgiving the other week. My wife made this spread. She loves the hosting stuff. We had family in from all over. My brother, sister, their kids. My in-laws. She had the tables set the night before. Had everything ready. I had one job: take the dog for a walk. That’s it.”
Steve sat back. He used his wing-tip brown-leather shoes to prop his folding chair back on its rear legs. “When the family was gathering and talking about this and that, and report cards and jobs and all that mess, I kept feeling that itch. The Lions were playing. It was Thanksgiving. That day belongs to the Detroit Lions. Everyone knows that! I grew up watching Barry Sanders dance on the screen like a warrior-ballerina. What was the score? How did the first half end?—is all I could think about. I told my wife I’d be in the bathroom. I sat up there and watched the entire second half while my family helped my wife finish cooking and plate the food. I said ‘I’ll be right out’ more times than I can count. But when my wife let out the ‘Steven!’ I knew I fucked up. Sadie, that dog of ours, took a steamy shit under the table as my wife was serving the butternut squash soup.”
People laughed. Steve rocked forward in his folding chair and looked around like he was about to pick a fight. When he remembered where he was, he chuckled with the room.
“And that’s it. The shit that kills me. I share it and can laugh at it in here. When I walked downstairs and smelled that dog shit, and everyone was seated all nice at the table and looking at me with that what the fuck Steve look—they don’t get it. You do. And that’s why I come here. You people get me.”
Steve let one more button loose and pulled down on his tie some more.
“You get me,” he said. “It’s like, I don’t need to explain who I am in here. You guys—”
“I need to share,” interrupted a voice. The man who spoke looked haggard. He wore light Khaki pants and his undershirt. The undershirt, originally white, had yellowed over years of slow and steady grime.
“My name is Fred.” And Fred waited, forgetting what was supposed to follow.
“Hi Fred” and “Hi Fred” and “Oh, Hi Fred” came in an arrhythmic cadence.
“It’s my first time here.” Fred sat stiffly, fighting his re-upholstered lounge chair with a bolt upright posture. “Do I say I’m a football fanatic or a football fan-addict? I couldn’t tell.” asked Fred.
“We’ve found that, as a group,” Tony said, “describing our relationship to the sport of football as fanatical is insufficient. There is something else at work. Something that separates the fanatic from the fan-addict. Only you can identify what you are. You can just start with, maybe, who sent you here.”
“The God damned Giants did, that’s who. Did you know you can subscribe to the New York Giants youtube channel? Did you know that if you started watching the highlights, the press conferences, the analysis now, you could watch a new video for all eternity? At least I think so. I’m not done testing the theory.”
A few laugh. Others clap. Fred removed his fingernails from between his teeth and smiled.
“My boss called me in today,” he said. “Said my productivity has slowed to a point that the company is losing money over me. He asked me why and I told him I had troubles at home.”
Fred looked around the room making eye contact, growing confident. “Troubles at the home. It’s a God damned Youtube channel. How could I tell him that? I couldn’t! I told him ‘give me a week. I’ll turn it around.’ And he said, ‘you better.’”
Tony nodded his head. “Fred. I didn’t turn it around. I worked ten years in the Target Corporate Sales office. My thing was clients. I took them to games. I had tickets to football games all over the country. After the recession hit in ‘07, clients left. I had to explain to my boss who I was going to all those games with. Who was I travelling across the country to see? Thursday, Sunday, Monday nights? Wild cards? It wasn’t about the clients anymore. It wasn’t about the work. It was the games.”
Fred sat back in the lounge chair, his mouth agape.
“And what these men have taught me,”—a “son of a bitch” came from the window—“is that it’s really not about the game either. It’s deeper than that. It’s the thrill. I’m hooked on the thrill. What sort of man,” Tony cleared his throat, “what sort of person is content sitting behind a desk, running errands for his spouse, cleaning the leaves from the fucking gutter.”
Groans of agreement circulated the room.
“We’re built for the hunt. The chase. We’re built for the thrill. And we’ll find it. And if the only place we get it is on the couch on Sundays, or watching those fantasy stats tick away, or witnessing that come-from-behind two-minute drill—then that’s right where we’ll go.”
“What takes it away?” Asked Fred, as if he and Tony were the only two in the room.
“How about the thrill of honesty. How about the thrill of naming the demon you’ve been hiding since you bought NFL’s Sunday Ticket or Red Zone package. How about the thrill of saying, ‘this is me.’ What you say Robert?”
The room pivoted towards Robert, seated in a rocking chair, his legs crossed. He bridged his hands, his thumbs to his chin, and rocked pensively on one foot. “My name is Bob, and I can’t stop watching football once I start.”
“Hi Bob,” said the room. The room was silent after that. Bob’s presence, his cropped hair, thick bones, and deep-laid jaw stirred the anticipation.
“In the days of our grandfathers,” Bob began. Pauline did not interrupt. “We weren’t behind desks, or sucking up to clients. We were in the fields, the factories. We built the homes we lived in, and wrestled satisfaction away from the listlessness of life. Then society takes it easy on us. Society takes the toil away. We creature away in our comfort, crawl into our beds like meek little lambs. Shit, men, think about it! When you’re washing machine breaks, you don’t fix it; you buy a new one!”
Pauline rolled her eyes but the rest of the men shook their heads with indignant agreement.
“Then there’s this game of football. Titans, gladiators do battle. Athletes bread like Secretariat coordinate their battle plan before our eyes. The sanctity of war, gentlemen. The advance and the retreat. Blood on the turf. Men risk and sacrifice for the great cause of glory, of victory.”
No one in the room dared to move or fidget. Bob stood up and continued. “Religion used to elevate the soul beyond our bestial existence—beyond the base necessities and the brutal requirements of survival. Man needed a sedative then, a respite from the primal expressions of force that the world demanded of him. What now, men? Society is our sedative. We are sedate, numb. And football is the new religion. Not to tame us, but to unleash us. And we worship it, not to neglect our families, but to pay homage to the final fading relic of what it means to be a man.” The men in the room were creeping collectively to the edge of each seat. One scooted too far and had to stand up and pace the room.
“What takes it away?—shit. Castration.” Bob turned to Fred in his yellowed undershirt. “Nothing will ever take away your urge to conquer and collide with your fellow man. Nothing. Sure, it helps to talk about it. But if you want real solutions, you get it out in one way or another. Come on down to the wharf each Wednesday night. I can show you then. This here’s the talk, but that’s where the action is. Show up then and you’ll get your thrills, all right.”
The hour was filled with more stories of crippling fandom and re-birth. When the hour ended, members of the group exchanged numbers, shook hands, and patted each other on the back.
Steve got home and took his dog for a walk. When Fred opened the door to his house he went straight to his computer to get an advance start on a report due the following week. Bob drove his pickup truck to the motor home park where he lived and spent the night chopping up the wood of an Oak tree that fell on the property.
Pauline was the only one who, upon returning home, immediately turned on Monday Night Football. The only thing better to Pauline then watching a group of men grovel and stumble and make themselves vulnerable about a silly game was to watch a stadium of over 100,000 of them cheer and root and waste their purpose away.
About the Author
Mark Goodson has been sober since 2007. He found writing to be the creative foundation for his recovery from drugs and alcohol. He's also a former football coach, fan (addict?), and just a super guy (editor's note). A poet until he ran out of money, he now teaches English and raises his two kids with his supportive wife. He blogs through his website, The Miracle of the Mundane.
He's always eager to see where his writing will lead him next.