Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Football Fan from the Beginning

Let me start off by saying that I love sports – all sports. I grew up in the country, and playing sports on the weekends or watching them on network television (we didn’t have cable in my community when I was a kid) was the way you filled your time. I really didn’t have much of a preference, either; baseball and basketball were my favorites, but I also enjoyed football and soccer immensely.

When I was 10 years old, my dad took me on the 30-minute drive to Knoxville, TN, and I attended my first real football game at Neyland Stadium. I’d been to see the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a preseason game in the same stadium when I was 4, but that doesn’t really count. I was too young to know what was going on and it was only an exhibition.
That Saturday, everything changed for me. As much as I enjoyed watching and playing the other sports, the electricity of the crowd that day, coupled with the speed and power of the game, led to football becoming my favorite sport to watch going forward, hands down.

As I began to follow the sport more closely, I realized how important every game was in college if you were going to have a shot at the national title, or at least a New Year’s Day bowl game. We also landed cable shortly thereafter and I began to follow my Dad’s beloved Steelers more closely and recognized again how important each win was in terms of playoff and Super Bowl aspirations at the pro level.

On top of the impressive athletes and enormous collisions, the importance of each weekend’s game was incredibly appealing to me, and that was the issue that further separated football from the other sports – where any single game was inconsequential – in my eyes.

Fast forward to today, and nothing has changed for me. I go into a funk after the Super Bowl ends, realizing that while I still have basketball and hockey to watch and although baseball is about to crank up shortly thereafter, my weekends will have a huge void for the next seven months.
I geek out over the draft in April, watch OTAs with bated breath through May and June and become giddy when training camps kick off in late July. Still, there is nothing quite like the feeling I get in early September when football returns to dominate the sports landscape. I love waking up on the Saturday before Labor Day to watch Herbie, Corso and the rest of the “GameDay” crew dissect the weekend’s games and, if possible (like last weekend), I’ll head into Knoxville and watch my Vols roll some undeserving opponent in the greatest college stadium in the country.
That’s just the appetizer, though. When the NFL returns the second weekend of September, things really get going. I’ve already made plans to watch the Steelers this Sunday, even though I’ve got some trepidation about how they’re going to perform while Dennis Dixon is under center. Every game is so important that the team has to play well over the next month – while Big Ben Roethlisberger is sidelined – if they’re going to have a shot at the postseason.

Between the college games on Saturday and the pro games on Sunday, I find it difficult to get much done this time of year. Heck, I’m having a hard time sitting here writing this. I’m ready to head to the house and get things ready for the Vikings/Saints kickoff game tonight.

That I have this much excitement and energy about a game featuring two teams in which I’m not emotionally invested just goes to show how passionate I am about this sport. It’s almost like . . . a sickness.

Yeah, a sickness! One that requires me to take the rest of the day off to, you know, “get better.”
Tailgating starts in 30 minutes. I’m outta here…

Nick Matijevich

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