“I still don’t understand what happened in the Vikings/Saints game. Can you break it down for me?” —Football Frank
Look, nothing makes sense anymore. Nothing. Not day. Not night. Not up. Not down. The entire Earth is completely off its rocker and nothing, not the persistence of objects, not the breaks of the game, not the rules of time and space, will ever be the same. The President of the United States paid off a porn star to cover-up an affair and it wasn’t even that big a story. That came out Friday. It’s Monday now and people are like “whatever.” If Obama had paid off a porn star to cover up an affair he’d be in Gitmo right now. Presidents getting blackmailed in the Age of Trump is kind of a ho-hum endeavor. There are no rules. Nothing means anything. And it ain’t over until it’s really, really over.
It’s been kind of a tough year for football. That same President Guy complains about football players kneeling to protest endemic racism in the American criminal justice system. Keep it up and some people might think he’s a racist. The game itself is marred by almost an injury per down and has to accept, intrinsically, that it is slowly but surely killing its players with undiagnosed head injuries. Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to play American tackle football. Soon the game will be played by robots only in dark alleys with lots of neon lights like Blade Runner movies. Many of us still watch, as if it were a special about lemmings hurling themselves off cliffs on the Gorilla Channel. It is fascinating and beautiful, even if the outcome is craven and bizzare.
My friend Douglass contends that the NFL is fixed. It’s one of his best conspiracy theories. I don’t know if I believe that results are determined as much as I believe that games are kept close. If not consciously by the players, then by hideous calls by the referees. No one knows what a catch is, or a legal tackle, or what you should be doing at any particular moment. The game can now only be policed in slow motion by camera replays. How many catches would have been overruled in the pre-replay days? All of them. If a ball is moving, if a ball comes pops out at the end. If your feet aren’t inbounds by an infinitesimal measure. A runner can simply run into the endzone, have the ball pop out and catch on fire and it is still a touchdown. The player has broken “the plane.” Nothing is a catch but everything is a touchdown.
As opposed to a catch, a kick is easily understandable. Put it through the uprights and over the bar and you get 3 points. It pretty much only exists in the NFL to appease mobsters who create betting lines whose strangeness does not become apparent until you add in these kicks. The field goal, normally a boring harkening-back to football’s rugby roots, takes on dramatic undertones at the ends of football games. Kicked by weak nerds but meaning the world. A kick will either make you famous for a little while or infamous forever. My favorite New England Patriots kicker was named Scott Sisson. His nickname was Missin’ Sisson. My second favorite kicker was named Tony Franklin. For some reason he only wore one sock and shoe. Kickers are weird.
The Vikings, historically, have had little luck with playoff field goals. They are almost as woebegotten a team as the Lions or the Browns. They’ve had great players and made some Super Bowls, but never won the big one. The Super Bowl is being held in Minneapolis this year, at U.S. Bank Stadium. But the Vikings looked dead in the water with 10 seconds left on the clock. They’ve been starting a career back-up journeyman quarterback named Case Keenum all year, even though their starting QB and their old starting QB were both back from injury. He shouldn’t even be playing. But they made the playoffs with him, so why not keep playing him? I mean, it’s a quarterback-driven league in which the difference between best and worst is decided by this most important of positions. But nothing means anything anymore. Your Uncle Carl can probably lead the Texans to the playoffs at quarterback, now. Nothing matters.
And for one clean moment, God stopped hating the United States Midwest, with all its nice white people, who must secretly lead lives of insane perversion just to balance it all out. On a seemingly harmless route along the sidelines, a player caught a pass only to have his defenders slam into each other senselessly. He, shocked, ran into the endzone with time running out. If the defenders had made a play on the ball, they may have picked it off to end the game. If they’d tackled Mr. Diggs inbounds, time would have expired without the chance of a winning goal. This was the Star Wars Death Star Death Shot, except football. Nothing exploded, except 100 years of Football Thought.
Feel bad for the Saints players who unwittingly collided. Feel good for long-suffering fatalistic Vikings fans who were shocked into joy. We must take meaning and happiness when it comes, even if we cannot understand how or why it arrived. Was it fixed? Is everything an illusion? Probably. But, like I said, take joy in whatever form it comes to you. Manufactured joy is still joy. And, these days, five seconds without a disaster is a pretty good run. Kind of a disaster for Saints’ fans. But they’ll always have the blues.
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City and doesn’t care if you think the Patriots are cheaters or not.