"On television, the quarterback peers out into the distance within the narrowed frame of the midfield camera and for a moment everything seems possible; the viewer can't know if there's a wide-open man fifty yards deep or if there is nothing ahead but despair--four men crowding two receivers, who aren't even bothering to wave their arms. The drama of the game on TV lies in finding out."
- Adam Gopnik in his New Yorker essay entitled "The Unbeautiful Game."
There are four types of sports in America: Those that are enjoyable only on television, those that are enjoyable only when viewed live, those that can inspire enjoyment whether watched on the tube or with the naked eye, and those that are just not enjoyed, whether they are on TV or live.
Now, depending on your seats, baseball and basketball fall into the third category. Scenes from Fenway Park and the TDBanknorth Garden are equally splendid whether one is sitting on her couch here in Westbrook, Maine or in one of Fenway's cramped seats. Hockey, on the other hand, is a sport that must be experienced live to gain appreciation for its allure. As for soccer, well, despite my affection for the sport both live and televised, it is not well-regarded by many Americans, regardless of whether they're on their couches or in a stadium seat. So that leaves football, the sport that was made for television, even if the medium had not yet reached its maturity when the sport was founded.
Almost every autumn Sunday afternoon (or, as increasingly bleary-eyed Patriots fans know, Sunday or Monday night), my wife and I (and now Eleanor) make our weekly pilgrimmage to my parents' home on (sniff) Monroe Avenue to watch that week's Patriots game. The scene: A spread of food and beverages bountiful enough to almost always inspire a private promise to start dieting tomorrow (it will be Monday, after all); a fifty-two-inch television displaying the game; a computer monitor bearing the oft-updated stats for the clan's fantasy football league (more on that later); and a collection of Patriots paraphenelia that, besides showcasing the family's sporting allegiences, also inspires strange superstitions (one of my uncles has developed the nervous tic of repeatedly jabbing the top of a Tom Brady bobble-head doll with his finger whenever the doll's namesake faces a big third-down or a similarly sticky game situation). And, of course, there's also a constant din of conversation that, while largely consisting of friendly banter (read: biting harassment about everything going on in each other's lives), occasionally erupts into hollers for joy and high-fives all around or vulgarity-laced howls of disgust culminating with a hat chucked at the TV screen.
In other words, who needs Gillette Stadium when you've got (your address here)?
If the iPod is the culprit for the triumph of the single over the album, fantasy football must be blamed for the dominion of the player over the team.
True story: During a Patriots game late last year, our usually rambunctious crew on Monroe Avenue was silent after Tom Brady delivered a strike to the endzone. The reason for the deafening silence? Identification of the receiver was delayed by poor camera angles, so everyone was forced to peer closely at the TV to figure out if the receiver was on their fantasy team. Moreover, the silence continued even after the receiver of the touchdown pass was identified because it was Jabar Gaffney, the one Patriots receiver not stocked on someone's fantasy team.
To be sure, our uncharacteristically quiet reaction was cultivated by a season in which Patriot touchdowns were plentiful and, therefore, ho-hum. But it can mostly be attributed to the fantasy football phenomenon that forces us to cheer for players even when they're playing against the Patriots, while also causing us to remain silent for a Patriots touchdown because the scoring player didn't generate any points for our fantasy teams.
- John C.L. Morgan