In the eyes of millions of Americans, I am a fake, an imposter, a charlatan — the Ashlee Simpson of sports journalism — because after 21 years of existence, I do not care about the NFL.
Believe me, it’s not that I chose this cursed path. There were forces beyond my control.
First, I was born and raised in Ithaca. While I’m proud of my dirty townie roots, I don’t think they were talking about Friday Night Lights when they named Ithaca the most enlightened town in America. Secondly, my earliest memories of football are of watching what should’ve been my default team, the Buffalo Bills, lose four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s. Finally, in the prime formative years of football fandom, after having already pledged my allegiance to the Indians of Cleveland, Art Modell shut the door on the Dog Pound, and I changed the channel to Comedy Central, vowing to forever spurn the NFL like the heartbreaking, misery-inducing tramp that it was.
I thought that was it. I was done, finished, had tossed football aside like Jessica Simpson cast off Nick Lache. But when the first half-hour of SportsCenter is completely uninteresting to you, there is something seriously wrong.
So with a new season of gridiron glory approaching, I’ve decided to take a page out of the Bill Simmons playbook — who, this past summer, picked English football side Tottenham Hotspur to be his team in the Premiership — and find my very own NFL team to follow religiously, from preseason to post.
Like Simmons, I had some ground rules. First and foremost, I wanted a team that would be fun to watch. They don’t have to go 16-0, but three-yards and cloud of dust is bad for my asthma. Other factors included quality of fans, evilness of the owner, over-popularity and other intangibles such as good tailgating and nice amenities (urinals) at the stadium.
Think it was easy? Baskin Robbins has only 31 flavors; the NFL has 32 teams. In the interest of saving space, and because I couldn’t think of anything smarmy to say about them, 18 teams have been eliminated straight off the bat.
If NFL teams were ice cream flavors, these teams would be the vanillas (too boring), the chocolates (too popular) and the eggnogs (only good once a year) of professional football. They are: the entire AFC and NFC South (Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay), San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia, New England, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Green Bay.
As for the next bunch, I’d sooner watch the WNBA, than these losers. In no particular order of dislike:
Dallas: Everything I hate about the NFL — power-trip coaches, larger-than-life players, megalomaniac owners — embodied and celebrated in a team.
Jets: For a team with only four playoff wins in the past 20 years, their fans seem awfully obsessed with quarterback controversies that won’t matter.
Giants: A trendy pick to under-perform from last season, this one’s on here just to piss off my roommate Ben.
Oakland: Like the Cowboys, only with fewer rings.
Baltimore: Something about the current incarnation of Modell’s team being renamed after carrion-eating scavengers rings true. I hope he chokes on a crab cake and dies.
Dolphins: If your team’s been in a Jim Carey movie, it’s not for me.
Washington: I already have enough trouble defending Chief Wahoo.
Minnesota: I like maritime intercourse and public urination as much as the next guy, but these guys take playing for the Vikings a little too literally.
And now for Testa’s Final Five — teams that came up inches short on fourth and goal.
Cleveland: I want to be a Browns fan like Oprah Winfrey wants to be skinny, but as hard as I try, I just can’t do it. Cleveland has the best fans of any city, in any sport, but while I can forgive, I never forget — just ask my ex-girlfriends at 3 a.m. in the morning.
Chargers: Another tempting pick, what with L.T. and all. Good locale, intriguing young quarterback, but I can’t pick another team who five years from now will be playing in L.A., ruining football for me, again.
Buffalo: I like the small-market, upstate New York aspect, and Tim Kuhls aside, the Bills have some of the best fans in the NFL. Sorry, but “Wide right! Wide right!” still rings in my ears.
Chicago: Great tradition, good brats, and come on, who wouldn’t want to be associated with Bill Swerski’s Superfans: “Who win’s in a fight, Ditka vs. God? Trick question, Ditka is God.” But this team’s offense is more boring than college girls’ poems about their ex-boyfriends.
Cincinnati: My early frontrunners. Last year’s Bengals played the kind of wide-open, run-and-gun football I love to watch. But route I-71 from Cleveland to Cincinnati is like the Mason-Dixon Line of Ohio, and I just can’t make that trip south.
And the winner is…
Arizona: They may go 8-8, but with guys like Edgerrin James, Leonard Pope and Anquan Boldin, the Cardinals will be fun to watch. And with Matt Leinart waiting in the wings, I can take extra pleasure every time Kurt Warner gets sacked — just as long as there are no camera cuts to Warner’s wife Brenda in the crowd. That and the thought of pristine urinals in a state-of-the-art stadium give me goose bumps.
Of course, to the victors go the spoils. Not only will I spend every Sunday, and one Monday, at Benchwarmers drinking my Cards to glory, but I will find a way to work in an Arizona reference into every one of my columns during this NFL season. Should the football gods bless my boys in red with Super Bowl glory, I will dress up as a Cardinal for an entire week of school.
So, in the timeless words of Hank Williams Jr.: “Are you ready for some football?” Because, finally, I am.
Paul Testa is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Cleveland Rocks will appear every other Wednesday this semester.