The preseason is one of the most peculiar American traditions. It’s the signal that the NFL is back, while still a reminder that we're still a month away from actual games that matter. It’s a tease filled with backup quarterbacks, flashes of rookie brilliance and the sinking feeling that maybe your team is just as bad as it was last year. If I had a choice between losing a finger and having my quarterback go down in preseason, I’d probably be talking myself into the notion that pinkies are biologically unnecessary.
In order to capture our complicated, borderline schizophrenic relationship with our yearly purgatory, I outlined the five stages of the NFL preseason. It’s like processing your kid going off to college, or moving in with each other, or any other bittersweet life moment, except it happens once every 12 months. Come, let’s commiserate with each other.
Phase 1 – Excitement
Nobody expects preseason, much like the apocalypse it comes like a thief in the night. You’re home after work one night, and you log on Twitter to realize that Chargers/Cowboys is halfway through the first quarter. This is exciting. You turn on the TV and search your eroded memory banks for who, exactly, your team drafted and when. You scour the field to try and locate their numbers, before realizing that you have no idea what makes for good cornerback play, especially when they’re out of the frame within the first second of every down. Whatever, you’re still stoked. The sixth-round offensive tackle makes a good block, prompting you to exclaim “THAT’S A GOOD BLOCK!” And you ignore the faint, poisoning realization that you won’t ever consider that player in any way ever again.
Phase 2 – Indifference
This usually settles in around the second quarter of the second preseason game. The glamour of the preseason has already diminished to its bones, and you’re starting to realize that you are nothing close to a scout. You have nothing to offer on guard play, and you care even less about the third-string quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals. There’s nothing else on TV, but that doesn’t stop you from looking anyway. Maybe you play Mega Man 2. Because when you’re watching the hometeam beat the Oakland Raiders 12-7 in the preseason, even Mega Man 2 can sound more interesting.
Phase 3 – ANGER
Now one of your player’s is being carted off the field. He has a torn ACL. You weren’t even watching the game. It’s the preseason. You forgot about this part of the preseason, where the millionaires you hoped would bring you glory and fortune are being lost for the season in a glorified scrimmage. What if the defining moment of the season happened during the warmups? A tendon ripped to shreds in a half-full stadium somewhere in the humid mid-west. You’re getting blood visions of missing the playoffs because of this stupid injury, the dangling, imprecise nature of professional sports is mooning you on local TV. You search his name on Twitter for the faint hope that maybe it’s just a sprain. No dice. You’re distraught over a devastating injury that happened to someone you don’t know, nor will you ever know. That means the NFL won. Start sulking.
Phase 4 – Existential Dread
Have you ever watched a walk-on quarterback start the final game of the preseason? It’s a place beyond time and space. It’s staring directly into the monolith and physically feeling the wrinkles wrap around your lips. Your eyes grow colder, your heart slower, it’s the one time of the year where you actually side with the demonstrably evil suggestion of expanding the NFL season to 18 games. Because even the active disregard for human flesh seems worth it compared to the weeknight choice between Pirates/Cardinals and Dolphins/Titans to go with your Hungry Man. The final week of the preseason is prepackaged with the promise of unspent time decaying right before your wasted body.
Phase 5 – Acceptance
Whatever man, its football season! The summer was long, hot, and brutal, you’re tired of being sad. The NFL feels like the harbinger of stuff kicking back into gear. It’ll be football, then baseball will get interesting, then basketball and hockey. The universe has once again offered you 15 hours a week of programming that you can always will yourself into caring about. Those deathless Sunday mornings now have a cross-cultural event to submerge in. In its small way, the world doesn’t feel so empty anymore.