For many of my 61 years, I was mesmerized by football broadcasts.
Like many Tennessee boys born in the middle of the 20th century, I grew up listening to John Ward call University of Tennessee football games on the radio. Names of great players such as Condredge Holloway and Larry Seivers and Bobby Majors are engraved in my memory.
I remember sitting on the couch at our home in Columbia, Tenn., in the 1970s and spooling the fringe of mom's couch pillows around my left pointer finger until it turned blue. As a teenager, working at Derryberry's Drug Store, I carried a transistor radio around in my shirt pocket on Saturday afternoons so I could listen to Vols games while I cleaned the restroom. Once, my radio fell into a toilet just as John Ward gurgled: "Give Him Six!"
This was before ESPN and the SEC network, and football existed for me in the theater of the mind.
Also in the 1970s, I became a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the dynastic NFL team that won four Super Bowls in a span of six years in the decade. Joe Greene, Jack Lambert and Franco Harris were my idols.
Throughout my young adulthood, as football proliferated on cable, watching the Vols and Steelers became appointment television. As years went by, it became possible to see almost all Vols games and many Steelers games on cable.
For a fan, this was heaven — until it wasn't.
Slowly, I began to lose interest in televised football. Like a lot of die-hard fans, watching games became too intense. Win or lose, I got headaches. Plus, the games seemed to go on forever, which only made the headaches worse.
My only recourse has been to DVR the games. When my team wins, I replay the game, fast-forwarding through the (many) commercials. I fully realize how lame this is, but I'm just being honest here.
This is such a profound change in the way I spend time that I suspect that I'm not alone. Thinking it through, there are several reasons for it. Here are the Top 5:
» Too many commercials, too little action: The Wall Street Journal once put a stopwatch to NFL games and determined there is only about 11 minutes of action in a three-and-a-half-hour game. Also, there are up to 100 advertisements in a Super Bowl, so the ratio of action to ads is crazy.
» Fantasy Football and the rise of the prima donna player: If you follow the NFL at all, you know that two former Steelers, receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'veon Bell have been in the news a lot lately. Brown, who was traded to the Oakland Raiders, has delayed his report to training camp over a helmet dispute. And Bell, now a New York Jet, is being held out of the preseason, even though he hasn't played an NFL game in over a year. These are two talented players who represent a new breed of players more concerned with their personal brands than being loyal teammates. I blame fantasy football for splintering team-centered football fandom.
» "Flag" football and the advent of instant replays: Nothing is official in the NFL anymore until it's confirmed by video. The video review, which will be expanded to pass interference calls this year, is ruining the game. If the game wasn't chopped up enough, these replays take away any remaining spontaneity and joy.
» The Tom Brady factor: This is personal. If it were not for Brady, the most accomplished quarterback in NFL history with his six Super Bowl rings, the Steelers would probably have a couple of more Lombardi trophies and so would Peyton Manning, the all-time Vols icon. Thus, Brady has been doubly harsh on us Steeler/Vol fans.
» The rise and fall of Rocky Top: A decade of mediocrity has chipped away at a Vols fan base that was spoiled by a decade of dominance in the 1990s. For many lifetime fans, it's hard to see how the Vols ever make it back to the top of the SEC given the shifts in the balance of power. Ironically, it's been awhile since I got a headache watching a Vols game because so little is usually at stake. Oh, well.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645.