Of which there are many.
Here's some things any spectator can watch while eating popcorn, even those who don't know a third down from, I don't know, a cat maybe?
Football fans and reality shows are natural enemies, a situation not helped by TV commentators' tendency to promote Dancing With The Stars in the middle of a crucial game-changing drive.
The dirty little secret is that even though most football fans consider the reality/soap world of shows like The Hills and celebrity gossip to be, in their vocabulary, "gay", deep down those worlds are a lot closer than you'd think.
A few years ago I started dating a guy who watched football, so I started watching football, because I don't have a mind of my own. I still barely understand football (is a safety a guy or a play?) but I find myself watching every week.
Because it turns out at least half of football isn't about football at all, it's about drama. Cheap, nasty, drama. It's the same as how nobody who watches Survivor gives a shit about surviving, and people don't tune in to Hell's Kitchen to learn about food, they tune in to watch Gordon Ramsay take arrogant cooks down a notch by calling them stupid donkeys.
NFL games are only played two days a week, usually. The rest of the week, football fans that would turn up their nose at soap operas, reality shows and celebrity gossip will cluster excitedly around the water cooler to discuss the latest Tim Tebow faux pas.
Here's some things any spectator can watch while eating popcorn, even those who don't know a third down from, I don't know, a cat maybe?
You have to start with the villains here, as some of the most popular reality shows (and "reality" shows) are all villains, like The Hills and Jersey Shore, which apparently people watch by the millions just to stare at people they hate.
This why people from around America will watch a Dallas Cowboys game, in the hope that someone gets hurt. Dallas is consistently the most hated team in the NFL, a phenomenon I have explored scientifically using charts.
All the stars aligned a few years ago when the NFL's most hated concentrated mass of douchiness, Terrell Owens signed with the Cowboys. When not publicly insulting his less famous teammates, or publicly outing the guy who throws him the ball so he can continue to make millions of dollars and who isn't gay, Owens is well known for classy touchdown celebrations like hurling snow at the fans, tearing down fan signs and dumping a fan's popcorn into his helmet. If this were reality TV, you would have immediately assumed it was staged.
But the "showboating big-mouthed attention whore" villains are just the start. There's "frat boy bully from a movie" Philip Rivers, for instance.
Seriously, just look at that face. When he isn't taunting opposing players, officials, or fans, he can often be seen yelling at his own teammates, because, according to many commentators, he is a real "competitor." I understand. You can't swear on the air. He is probably one of the biggest "competitors" in the NFL. But that's just my opinion, and opinions are like "competitors," everyone has one.
The point is, reality TV makes you wait an entire season to see Snooki get punched in the face. You get to see Rivers get crushed by multiple 300-pound men on a fairly regular basis every week and no one gets arrested.
Of course, it wouldn't be TV for stupid people without the heroic side of the overly simplistic and exaggerated morality play. Take the Saints in last year's Super Bowl, who got the same weepy, soft-focus, treatment that on reality TV is reserved for the last two people left on American Idol (and probably done by the same video production team.)
It was a great story, but you don't need to single handily heal the wounds of Hurricane Katrina to get the hero treatment. Before the Saints, you had Kurt Warner, whose supposed true life story of personal struggles, dark tragedies, repeated rejections and persistence got boiled down to one retarded sound bite: "A bag boy dreamed hard enough that he became a quarterback one day."
Scientists have postulated that the juiciest celebrity story is when a once-beloved hero becomes a villain, as evidenced by the way every celebrity news outlet jumps on every landmark of Mel Gibson's descent into madness.
Brett Favre spent 16 seasons as the Green Bay Packers' quarterback, and giving white males between the ages of 18 and 65 a weekly boner. Then he decided to retire, and after everyone had gone through the five stages of grief, he decided to unretire.
After retiring and unretiring approximately 50 times over the next two years, while jumping teams and constantly making passive-aggressive comments to the media about his current and past teams, the one time hero was starting to come across as a real "competitor." It didn't help that the sports media, a notoriously risk averse bunch, fellated him verbally and jumped obediently to attention every time he said he was thinking about retiring or unretiring again.
Not that we can blame them. Favre's return to Green Bay, as the star quarterback for their hated rivals, drew more viewers than the simultaneous World Series baseball game. He was booed heartily, at the stadium and through television screens everywhere, but unfortunately won.
Audiences were satisfied, however, when he lost to (and was injured by) the Saints in the NFC championship game. The only way it could have been more perfectly scripted was if Farve had revealed at the opening Coin Toss that he was Saints Quarterback Drew Brees's father.
I know it's stupidly obvious to say that celebrity followers love a scandal, but the thing is, there are so many scandals these days that they've got to have that extra layer of stupid to get any attention. Like finding out that Jersey Shore's stereotyped Italians aren't even Italian.
But the NFL has the best scandals. The best. And here "best" means "most ridiculous." Just when you've decided you don't want to read about any more football players running over people, buying hookers, or being arrested for drugs, someone like Plaxico Burress draws you in by getting shot in the leg. Oh no, not by someone else, you see, he was at a nightclub, and he of course had a gun in his sweatpants. It started to slip down his leg. So he had to catch it. And it went off while pointed at his leg. You know how it is. Could happen to anyone.
He learned his lesson: Don't wear sweatpants to a nightclub, you lazy slob. But he also had to serve time for carrying an unlicensed gun, and everyone knows prison can be tough, so he hired a prison coach to get him up to speed. Seriously.
But of course the real gold in the world of celebrity scandals is the sex scandal, and holy shit does the NFL deliver. You may remember the 2005 Minnesota Vikings "Sex Boat" (also a 1980 movie). The title is a little inaccurate, there were actually two boats. Seventeen Vikings players rented two boats and a metric ton of hookers, took the hookers on the boats and had a lot of sex. It was a simple plan.
The police first heard of it when a nearby homeowner called to say that "seven black men" were urinating in her yard. The team and NFL yelled at them a lot but all that came out of it was some fines and misdemeanor charges.
And then you have the lovely sideline reporters. Now, I'd never suggest that the NFL employs these women purely to facilitate sexy scandals, but it certainly hasn't hurt.
Sideline reporters are mostly women because football watchers are mostly men. Sideline reporters stand on the field near the players and ask them insightful questions during the game, like "How does it feel to be winning?" or "How does it feel to not be winning?"
Worst case scenario: male viewers have a nice-looking lady to look at. Best case scenario: a drunken NFL legend tries to kiss the reporter.
More recently, former sideline reporter Jenn Sterger was allegedly the victim of Brett Favre sexting, which blew up big time despite fairly sketchy evidence, because there was a sexy lady (yay), there was Brett Favre (boo) and there was the thought of someone sending someone else pictures of their dong while wearing nothing but Crocs (haha).
Deep down, we are all terrible people and love to see highly touted stars taken down a peg. That's why people love watching talent shows like American Idol where contestants who think they are God's gift to pop music get ripped a new "competitor" by a bitter Englishman.
It only gets better the farther they have to fall, and as far as hype goes, it's hard to beat a #1 NFL draft pick. Even though #1 picks tend to fizzle about as often as they pan out, they're given guaranteed contracts in the tens of millions of dollars and the media pretends every year that the first chosen player is going to be awesome and change history.
Note that even though the draft takes place over three days, the circus leading up to the draft goes for weeks or months, including the six-day NFL scouting combine, where potential draftees perform meaningless physical and mental tests while reporters and team officials nod knowledgeably at them.
There is so much time spent building expectations that fans are prepared to literally crucify anyone who doesn't live up to them.
For years, the draft bust poster boy was Ryan Leaf. He was actually a #2 (insert your own joke) but most people considered it a toss-up between him and #1 pick Peyton Manning, whom, if you follow football, commercials or cereal at all, you know to be a ridiculously successful player with a funny face.
Long story short: Leaf did not wait for the pressures of success to cause him to flame out, but began to flame out immediately, before the season even began.
Not only did he have the attitude of a spoiled kindergartener, which is honestly par for the course in the NFL, but even worse, he couldn't play. After a couple more teams tried him out and confirmed that he was indeed broken, he was put out to pasture at age 26. Last year--11 years after standing on top of the world--he was arrested for breaking into someone's house.
Now, unless you are fat, you'll probably agree that fat people are always funny. Hell, I am fat and I find myself ruefully agreeing with the people that laugh at me that they have a point.
But while the gossip world is gasping about Jessica Simpson getting "fat" for wearing "mom jeans" a size larger than what she normally does, the NFL has actual jiggly, beer-bellied men like "Fat Albert" Haynesworth who hilariously fail actual physical conditioning tests after getting paid nine figures to be in shape.
And unlike singers and actors, a football player's entire job is to be athletic, so getting fat is actually a professional failing. That's good because we don't have to feel as bad about pointing and laughing. This opens up a fountain of fan creativity responsible for things like this list of nicknames for one-time player Jared Lorenzen :"Quarter(got)back," "Hefty Lefty," "The Pillsbury Throwboy," "The Abominable Throwman," "J.Load," "Round Mound of Touchdown," "Tubby Gunslinger," "BBQ (Big Beautiful Quarterback) ," "Battleship Lorenzen," "Butterball," "Lord Of The Ring-Dings" and "He Ate Me".
Seriously, how can the media be chasing down Gossip Girl's Michelle Trachtenberg and asking her if she's fat...
...when people are counting on Terrence Cody here to actually tackle a moving target?
And finally, there's the Oakland Raiders. Some longsuffering East Bay fans actually follow the Raiders as fans, but most other people watch them for pure entertainment, because they encompass pretty much everything on this list so far.
The main villain is the owner, Al Davis, who was once a decent and respected man and is now a reanimated corpse bent on destroying all he once loved.
He drafts players apparently at random and keeps firing coaches until he finds one that agrees to coach his players to run smack into each other.
Or fall down for no reason.
The self-sacker there is JaMarcus Russell, who was, you guessed it, a #1 draft pick. He out-Leafed Ryan Leaf by being even more incompetent--and strangely serene about his incompetence--attributing it week after week to bad calls or bad luck, and saying he didn't need to change anything. He was given a $61,000,000 contract. There are no accidental zeroes there.
He obliged on the quirky scandal front with a rumored "purple drank" habit--a substance media outlets everywhere were delighted to explain to older white people.
It goes without saying that Russell also became fat, a subject I admit I've milked for cheap laughs. In my defense, fat people are funny.
The Raiders have been surprisingly quiet on sex scandals recently, probably because catastrophic failure is a turnoff to most women. However, backup quarterback Kyle Boller did his best to bring scandal into the family by marrying Carrie Prejean who you might remember as the former Miss California who came out against same-sex marriage and then someone found a teen sex tape of her. Funny how that happens.
The Raiders even have heroes, with possibly the best punter and kicker in the league in Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski, both coincidentally in positions that minimize contact with the rest of the team (they get on the field for one play, kick a ball and get off). They are heroes for remaining with this depressing team so long (10 years), although I'm sure their record-breaking salaries ease the pain.
Sure, a ton of people really dig the drama they make up on Gossip Girl or stir up on Jersey Shore, but come on, you can't beat a team being driven into the ground by a reanimated corpse.
Check out more from Christine, in Political Cartoons: The Lowest Form of Communication and 'Plus Sized' Clothes: Translating the Baffling Euphemisms.
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