No one moves to New York for the football.
You might move here for our world famous mosques. You might move here for the architecture. You might move here because you hate air conditioning and personal space. You might move here for the grossly inflated salaries that make you dream of swimming around in money like Scrooge McDuck in the opening credits of DuckTales.
But not one of the thousands of dumbasses that move to this city every month moves here for the football scene.
I had no clue I should have added football to that list.
And why would I have a clue? Not only had I lived in Texas for all of my 32 years, those years had been spent in Hereford (18 years) and Austin (14 years). I'm not going to say that Hereford is the most football crazy town in Texas, but I will say after consuming Friday Night Lights in all three of its forms, Hereford must be the most typical town in Texas. That I only ever saw our Dairy Queen closed for Christmas Day and during home football games, sums this up best. And Austin … well, it's mainly a watch football on TV type of town … a 7,370 square foot TV with its own Facebook group.
Now, I am sure in pure raw numbers, you can make an amazingly stunning, yet factually true statement like: There are more college football fans in New York City than there are in Auburn, Alabama.
Clearly, we also know why this is true. Everyone in Auburn, Alabama committed mass suicide on a cold, dreary January night. Just to not have to see the Crimson Tide half of their family for President's Day, which I assume is celebrated on Jefferson Davis' Birthday in Alabama, but I might have just heard that somewhere. However, comparing the raw numbers between Auburn and New York is just like saying there are more Christians in China than any other country. Sure it's conceivably true. It also roughly approximates the experience of being a practicing college football fan in Manhattan. You tend to gather in living rooms among people of your kind. Your neighbors don't really get it and they look at you funny. And you dare not publically state your devotion to college football in Manhattan, except for among people that know the secret handshake.
You see, people in New York think they know football, but here, football is defined as the NFL (and often taught on an XBox). Get this, Texans: These are the games people talk about in the office on Monday. These are the games it's expected that you watched. But for me, these actual interactions go something like …
THEM enters the office kitchen from a side door. THEM's Derek Jeter mug is empty. THEM appears hungover because he didn't have the good sense to watch football on Saturday and rest on Sunday. BURNTENDZ is standing at the coffee maker, brewing a fresh pot of coffee. Because God knows no one else ever seems to in this place. THEM approaches BURNTENDZ. THEM seems baffled by the ability to open up the coffee maker and wonders if it's an Autobot or a Decepticon. THEM looks around for Megan Fox. THEM does not see her. THEM is disappointed. THEM feels awkward. THEM is frightened by silence. THEM feels impelled to speak.
The Giants looked pretty good yesterday.
Yeah. They won. They put up 14 in their half of the fourth and pulled it out.
How did Aaron Ross do?
Who? (there is a pause) He on your fantasy team or something?
THEM leaves, thinking you thought he meant the San Francisco Giants. And who cares about National League baseball at this point of the season? The Mets are assuredly out of it and the Yankees have the Sox to worry about.
But, Aaron Ross is your cornerback, Giants fans. Aaron Ross won the Thorpe Award his senior year at Texas. Aaron kept getting dicked over by the NCAA and actually was a member of three signing classes at Texas. Aaron Ross is not the only New York Giant I can name, but he is the only one I have any affection for. Because I know at the end of the day, Aaron Ross will never show up in an Oklahoma jersey, pick off a pass and run it back against my favorite football team. Giants fans, however, might see him in do just that for the Eagles in a few years. Or the Redskins. Or the Cowboys.
Look. I understand I find myself in a baseball first town. A city doesn't win 35 out of 105 World Series Titles without baseball sort of bubbling to the top. And it's not surprising that any bartender in this city can name the top 5 prospects in both the Yankees and the Mets farm systems.
But I also realize I live in one of the great sports towns in the world. A White Sox game last month featured an appearance by the NFL's Lombardi Trophy, the NBA's Larry O'Brien Trophy, The Stanley Cup and the Sox' own 2005 Commissioner's Trophy for winning the World Series. Boston and New York are the only other cities that can claim such a feat. Greatest NFL game ever played? 1958 Baltimore Colts versus the New York Giants in Yankee Stadium. It's even called the Greatest Game Ever Played. Most iconic moment of the NBA before the age of Magic and Larry? Willis Reed coming out for Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. There's a leg of the Triple Crown just outside the city at Belmont. The New York Marathon is the largest in the world. And, for God's sake we have Earth’s biggest tennis stadium and the US Open is currently gripping this city like a Sooner trying to block someone. And speaking of brawls, the first WrestleMania was held in New York and the boxing history here is long and glorious.
It's easy to argue that New York is the capital of everything that matters in this country. Everything, that is except for the sport that matters most.
Further, we live in a time when everyone wants to know where everything came from. We follow food from farms to green markets to our plate. We follow stars from Mean Girls to rehab. We follow bands from Brooklyn and the Lower East Side to Madison Square Garden. We follow basketball players from Rucker Park … to … well, the Garden. But we hope for their sakes they are playing against the Knicks and not for them. New Yorkers follow baseball players from their meager roots in the AL Central to the spotlight of the Yankees.
But football players? Football players are different. Football players are made on Draft Day when New Yorkers trudge down to the draft, which our fair city hosts, and boo them. Unless you count the four or five football players that are materialized every December in our fair city so one of them can win the Heisman. An award that, in recent years, seems to be given out by a bunch of people who don't pay attention to the sport. That is to say it's held in the perfect city, and could only be less of a comedy if they moved the ceremony up a few blocks and held it at Caroline's.
By capacity, the eleven largest stadiums in our country (and 11 of the top 18 in the world) host only college football games. It's a big deal all over the country, and it's a big deal to me. College football put me in therapy in 1997 and in 2001, while the greatest moment in my life is Texas winning the 2006 Rose Bowl. The only events that can possibly top that will be the birth of my 11 sons: Vince James, Earl Ricky, Major James, Chris Colt, Jamaal Roosevelt, Nobis Derrick, Bryant Aaron, Cedric Hodges, Roy Jordan and little Dawson Mangum. (Any accidental daughter to be named Stoney.)
So let's stop right here and talk about what this is not. This is not me saying New York needs more football. Or New York is wrong in it's ambivalence towards football. This would be akin to people saying Austin needs an In N Out Burger or a Trader Joe's. No. No, it doesn't. And no, no we don't need more football here. I mean, I'd probably rather have ESPNU than Al-Jazeera 4's Spanish feed, but ... that's just being picky.
What I am saying is the thing that has been standing between me and exploring all these dichotomies is a hefty Barking Carnival expense account. Oh and an audience of dozens to drag along for the ride.