Ten Sundays without the NFL

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Quitting the NFL Week 1 was probably not to the best idea in the world.

After I made my declaration in a self-aggrandizing and pissed-off post, I took a pledge to donate to a local women’s shelter every time I did something NFL-related this season (see: below). Riding a high of attention from the story and a new-found eight hours every Sunday, I wrote a self-congratulatory note after leaving. All the while knowing that writing a sports blog with no NFL coverage would be like running a porn site with no CFNM.

Ten weeks have come and gone and I still feel secure in my decision, if not less brazen about it. Here then, are some highlights from my NFL-free life.

First off, The Pledge:

At the season’s end, I will donate $100 to the San Luis Obispo Women’s Shelter, for 35 years, a safe house for women and children who are victims of domestic violence and abuse. The organization is an emergency home and provides crisis intervention, education and advocacy to the women and children of the county I call home.
Along with the $100, I will donate $1 every time:
• I watch (even part or highlights) an NFL game

• I log into my fantasy football league

• I wear a piece of NFL or NFL-related clothing (grown men who sit in cubicles all week shouldn’t wear jerseys anyway, not a flattering look)

• I give my patronage to any of the NFL’s top sponsors, including: Toyota, Comcast, Gatorade, Ford, Coca-Cola, Geico, Papa John’s, Anheuser-Busch, Ticketmaster, Verizon, Miller, Coors, Pepsi and Visa

In September, I tallied 42 violations. From sneaking peeks at my fantasy team (a commitment made prior to the decision to boycott) to popping Cokes at lunch to pulling the credit card out absentmindedly, the NFL haunted me each time I opened a new window or my wallet. I had a pair of actual NFL game-watching violations, one was while eating lunch at a brewpub (I was surrounded by flatscreens) and the other was checking in on NFL highlights while waiting for Baseball Tonight. October, I got out of the month with 17 violations, all due to soda consumption (something I’ve found hard to completely cut out and feel guilty about because soda is the new cigarettes) and credit card use.

I ceased checking my fantasy teams around the second week of October and stopped patronizing restaurants with TVs during the weekends. SportsCenter hasn’t been in my rotation nearly as much as House Hunters International the last few years, but it wasn’t worth me running into a NFL-related highlight for the trouble of getting to the LeBron show or the Jeter diaries.

Thus far in November, I have two violations, one Mexican Coke after a half-marathon (paired nicely with a post-race burrito on the streets of Santa Barbara) and the other was swiping my Visa to help pay for the meal.

And that’s it.

The fact that the NFL no longer exists to me has resulted in some unplanned pleasant byproducts. They are:

• I drink less: I wasn’t a big Bud/Coors guy before, but now it’s not a factor. I’ve lost any desire for the bladder-crowding corn syrupy beer. The appeal of drinking during the day in the name of a sporting event and having that weird 6 p.m. should I stop now and be hungover before bed or keep going and be hungover for work tomorrow moment no longer exists.

• I eat out less: This pairs with drinking but it’s funny how many spots thrive slinging half-assed pub grub in front of glowing rectangles. The Buffalo Wild Wings model of warmed-over-from-the-walk-in cuisine served by a co-ed whose hair is pinned back to a scowl seems to crowd up a fair number of less-than-worthy establishments during the summer and fall. I don’t miss going for a long lunch and owing $45 for two beers, and some kind of slab of ground beef, bun and fries—rental for my spot on a bench or a bar stool. NFL games take for fucking ever. The clock during junior high social studies just before lunch never moved slower than when watching the NFL sober. It is imperative to eat and drink the NFL day away, otherwise it’d feel like waiting for a plane that will never board. Choosing where I eat out based on the quality of food and the company has become the new priority.

• I have more money: Makes sense. Drinking costs money and eating out costs money. Though we’re on a budget with a little one and this decision has basically been integral keeping the baby in diapers and the pantry stocked with Clif bars, I did a year-over-year comparison of my eating out/going out expenses from October and it plummeted from $879 to $249 (for two people in ’14). I don’t know if I should be proud of myself this year or ashamed of myself for last.

• I do more: Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Yes, I am more productive at work because I’m not fucking around with my fantasy team, trying to make ridiculous trades with the bottom-trending teams, looking for free agents to pick up or reading those canned blogs from Yahoo Fantasy Experts. I actually snicker when I walk by my co-workers’ desks and they have their fantasy junk hidden in plain sight underneath whatever spreadsheet they’re pretending to work on. This is a busy time of year at my day job and instead of leaving at six or seven I’m pretty much done with my day at five sharp, ready to come home, be a dad for a little bit and still have time to write about …not watching the NFL.

But it’s more than just productivity at work (which I’ll gladly surrender in March), it’s getting after it on the weekends. Since I gave up the NFL, I’ve purchased a lawn mower, a leaf blower, a new shovel, a weed whacker and pruners along with one of those adjustable branch trimmers that gets the dead stuff down from way up high. On the weekends we take my son, plop him in the middle of the lawn and listen to him warble towards the tree tops and the clouds while we turn our yard into something that looks more like Miyagi’s and less like Carl’s shed. Last weekend, I removed two tree stumps with my bare hands. I was sore all day Monday sitting at my desk in the afterglow of how good it felt to work like that.

I run more: Last Saturday was my return to racing after about a year hiatus. I never stopped running, but having the time on the weekends for two long runs has made all the difference. No, skipping the NFL hasn’t gotten me back into race form, but it’s got me believing, even with a little one and a full-time job, that I can get there sooner than later.

I’ve had a little help along the way. Baseball’s postseason all but monopolized my existence and, as an Oregon alum, I have likely been spending a disproportionate amount of time following the Ducks. Oregon’s program, from what I can tell, is born from the spindly hands of child laborers. The weekly uniform switch-a-roo, now de rigueur, is only adding to China’s black rivers of industrial sludge, the Pacific Garbage Patch and the millions of microscopic man-made threads which are killing the oceans swiftly if not softly. College football is the same brutal game that turns men’s brains to mush and brings Alzheimer’s on well before the AARP cards start to arrive in the mailbox—with zero compensation for the players outside of the questionable educational benefit (how can one truly focus in the classroom when 40-plus hours a week are spent at practice, on the road, interacting with the media or otherwise making the university a mint as a billboard?)

Yes, FCS will be the next to go. Baby steps.

It has been a magical 10 weeks. One fifth of the year spent a little differently and a little better. My appetite for the game and all that surrounds it is lost. I have memories of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, of Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss, of Peyton Manning and damn near everyone else. But it’s a silly pastime and a toxic one (see: NYT Magazine’s Nov. 9 cover story). Knowing what we know about the lives of the men who play, especially the hell they endure after retirement, makes the NFL nearly impossible to watch for anyone whose pre-frontal cortex has completely ripened.

No, I don’t miss the NFL. I know the NFL doesn’t miss me either.

But at least now I know we’re even.

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