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The 5 O’Clock Club: I like football

SB Nation logo SB Nation 9/19/2019 Bill-in-Bangkok
© Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The 5 o’clock club is published Wednesday to Saturday during the season, and aims tso provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.

I like football.

What I mean is, I’m more than just a Redskins fan.

Every week, I try to watch as many NFL games as I can manage. It’s a challenge for me because my clock is basically upside-down, and it’s always the wrong day where I live.

Redskins 1 o’clock games come on at midnight here, when I have to wake up and get ready for work about 5 hours later. In December, when daylight savings time has ended, those games run from 1 a.m. to 4 a.m., so I often sleep early and set an alarm to wake up and watch the game.

Monday night games show at around 7:30 Tuesday morning for me. Thursday Night Football games are on Friday mornings.

I have a Game Pass subscription that allows me to watch replays of and or all games on-demand.

In Week 1, I watched the following:

  • Packers - Bears
  • Rams - Panthers
  • Redskins - Eagles (twice)
  • Falcons - Vikings
  • 3 Qs of Ravens - Dolphins
  • 60% of Titans - Browns
  • Giants - Cowboys
  • The 1st, 2nd, 4th quarters + OT of Lions - Cardinals
  • I watched the 40-minute highlight plays of Texans - Saints, then turned on the full broadcast and watched the final 6 minutes

I’d estimate that comes to around 17 hours of football last week.

Part of what all this means is that Redskins wins and losses don’t put me in a position where I feel the need to smash delicate electronics or kick the dog if things don’t go well.

Anyone who has been an active member here for the past 7 years or so will know that I am an enthusiastic Redskins supporter. I like it when they win — it definitely makes my day a little brighter.

But, my own personal self image isn’t really tied up in whether the Redskins win or lose. If they have a terrible game — and let’s be clear, they’ve had two terrible games to open the 2019 season — it affects me about as deeply as if I try to order a baked potato smothered in butter, sour cream and chopped bacon with my dinner only to find out that the ‘taters are 86-ed and I’m gonna have to eat broccoli instead. I mean, sure, there’s disappointment, but an hour later I’m not obsessing over it. I’ve moved on.

I like football for a few reasons.

I played it when I was young, and I was good at it. I was a “three sport athlete”.

I played basketball, baseball and football. I was a third-string bench warmer/water boy in basketball; I just never really understood the game or had the athleticism to be any good. I was a decent outfielder in baseball, and for a season or two I was even a handy pitcher now and then, but, for a big guy, I just never could hit my weight. I didn’t have any skills with a bat in my hand.

But football was a different matter. I played Right Guard and Center, and I was good (I’m talking about community league football as a kid, not the SEC). I played on a team that went undefeated, and was one of two players from that championship team that made the all-stars as well. Being an interior lineman was a place where the combination of being big and smart, but slow footed and not very athletic somehow equaled a pretty damned good player.

But I enjoy football for other reasons, too — chief among them is the strategic chess match that football is.

Many people here on HH are probably aware from my repeated references to it that I lived in Australia for over a decade before coming to work in Thailand. When I lived there, I became a Cricket fan.

Cricket comes in three flavors:

  • The traditional 5-day “test match”
  • One-day cricket (which was a newish innovation when I first arrived in Oz in the mid-90s)
  • A game called 20-20, which is usually played at night, and is about the length of a baseball game

Of the three, my passion is for test match cricket. A match lasts for a maximum of 5 days. Very few games finish in less than 3 days, and a 4-day match is pretty common.

To win at test cricket, you don’t just have to score more runs than the opposition; you also have to get ten players out... twice. Which means that, when your team is bowling (think pitching), you have to “take” 20 “wickets” (that is, get 20 batters out) or you can’t win.

If you reach full time on the fifth day and one team is ahead on runs, but they haven’t taken 20 wickets, then the 35 hours of play end in a “no result”. We all go home, and come back to play a new test match in a week or two. There’s no overtime... no “sudden death”... no penalty shootout. Just a no-result.

Most Americans go nuts if a 3 hour NFL game ends in a tie. Imagine the mindset you have to have to enjoy a game that can go on for five days only to end without a result!

(In those cases, the players who are behind, but batting without getting out are said to have “saved” the match, and those batting partnerships are sometimes among the most memorable moments in cricket).

Why am I talking about Cricket? Because, in my opinion, Five Day Test Match Cricket is probably the most strategic team sport in the world.

NFL ranks second for me.

I love watching football because, until the clock winds down to a certain point in the 4th quarter, we just don’t know who will win the game. As the fourth quarter started on the Lions - Cardinals game in Week 1, no one could have convinced me that the Arizona team I had watched for three quarters could possibly avoid losing. But they did.

I am old enough to remember the Heidi game. It made an impression because my dad was livid when they turned the game off to show the movie. He was fit to be tied when he later found out that the Raiders had scored two TDs in the final minute of the game to win 43-32.

But, beyond the sense of ‘on any given Sunday’, there’s also almost always a sense of possibility throughout the season for fans who want to look for it an embrace it.

There are rarely more than a handful of teams that can’t be said to have some path to the playoffs as the brown leaves of November start turning into the bare branches of December. With 12-team playoffs and intra-division games loaded into the final 4 weeks of the regular season, the NFL has a formula designed to keep fans engaged with a vested interest for as long as possible.

And once a team qualifies for the playoffs — anything can happen! Just as Eli Manning.

I like football because of the on-field competition and strategy. I enjoy the structure of the league because the rules have been developed to put a premium on open competition and make dynasties very hard (but not impossible) to build. If you build one in the NFL, it’s not because you’re a big market team that can afford to “buy” players that other clubs can’t afford. It’s because you’ve cracked the code.

The draft, free agency, salary cap, divisional structure, wildcard teams — the elements are all in place to give 30 to 32 fan bases per year a reason to believe that this could be their year... and if not this year, then certainly next year! All this, without the fear of relegation.

2019 isn’t the Redskins’ year. But they’ve got Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, two young running backs who’ll be back from injury, and a young defensive line that will be back again in 2020.

Why, once we pick up a player or two in free agency, cut some deadwood from the roster, and have another good draft, next season really could be our year!

That’s why I like the NFL.

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