I have a confession to make:
I don’t care about the NFL.
I really needed to get that off my chest, because I feel more and more alone in that opinion every day. I don’t hate the league or think liking it is some kind of moral failure, so I don’t fall into that group. There just seems to be such a small niche of people like me who absolutely love football, but not the NFL. No matter how much I try, I just can’t make myself care.
I haven’t always felt like this. When I was younger, I was crazy about the NFL. I grew up a diehard Packers fan. Don’t ask me why a kid in Mississippi rooted for Green Bay, because I’m not even totally sure. I’m assuming it was because of fellow Mississippian Brett Favre. Despite the distance, I wore my cheesehead with pride. The team’s Super Bowl run in 2011 was absolutely incredible. For better or worse, I lived and died by the Packers. But I didn’t just watch the Packers, I watched it all. I planted myself on the couch every Sunday afternoon and watched those games, even though I was stuck watching the Titans every week. Further proof of that is that I created a dynasty in fantasy football (not to brag). Browns-Jaguars on a Thursday night? Sounds like a perfectly disgusting color rush game, and I’m watching every second of it. No matter what game, no matter how boring it was, I was all in on the NFL.
Even though I loved the NFL, it has never compared to college football in my heart. Seeing that I grew up in an SEC town at least 4 hours away from the nearest pro team, that shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Nothing on Earth could compete with the spectacle and energy of an SEC football game. Not only was the in-game experience unparalleled, but so was the TV product. Where else could you see such a wild clash in styles as Chip Kelly’s Oregon playing against Georgia Tech running the triple option? There was always something new to see, some chaos waiting to happen. College football provides the same sense of the unknown as a Phish concert. You always have the chance to experience something special. This could not be more different than the NFL. Not only is there not much parity, but even the special moments aren’t that special. Can you remember the last time the Jets beat the Patriots? Unless you’re a Jets fan, probably not. You know what everyone does remember? Appalachian State upsetting Michigan in the Big House. Boise State running the statue of liberty in the Fiesta Bowl. Kansas beating Texas (just in case you forgot). And, perhaps the single moment that best encapsulates the spirit of college football, The Piss & Miss. Even though I loved both at the time, the NFL could never replicate this magic.
Over the last few years I noticed something strange. For a long time, my typical Sunday afternoon routine was to watch football while doing homework, meaning it took me all day to do my homework because I was mainly watching the games. But when I was in college, I realized I was finishing much earlier. At some point, I had transitioned to mainly doing work with the games on as background noise. I also noticed that I had been skipping NFL focused episodes of podcasts I loved without even thinking about it. While watching the Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl it finally hit me: I didn’t care. Like, at all. No matter how hard I tried, the game just didn’t mean anything to me. I know this sounds like I had just become a mature adult, but that wasn’t true at all. The outcome of the South Carolina game still determined my mood for the entire weekend (spoiler alert: it usually wasn’t great). NFL games had become boring for me, and I had no idea why. I suddenly felt entirely out of place in the sports world.
It’s no secret that when it comes to sports in America, the NFL is king. The league dominates the media landscape. The NBA has their time to shine during their shared offseason (#thisleague), but once the NFL returns, it’s all about them. If you need proof of that, just look at what happened this year. COVID delayed the NBA season and forced them to compete with the NFL. The result: the three least watched games in NBA Finals history. Even when they don’t go head to head, the lack of coverage outside of the games has sidelined the league in the national consciousness. If you’re not talking about the NFL, apparently nobody cares. As someone who doesn’t want to hear about the NFL, this absolutely sucks. The all-encompassing nature of pro football ruins sports media, as there is no room for growth outside of already niche channels (shoutout Moon Crew). I know this is an incredibly first world problem, but it feels so odd it was something I wanted to write about. I never imagined that in the age of the fragmented audience, one property would continue to control an entire network.
Now obviously this doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy watching sports, or ESPN, or even the occasional NFL game. I still love sports, especially football, and I’ll keep watching the marquee games. I just feel like this is an increasingly unpopular opinion. It seems that, like most everything nowadays, you’re either in or you’re out on football. You’re either Detroit Don or Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’m here to say, it’s ok to be neither. It’s ok to live your truth as a non-NFL football fan.