The Full Nelson: The saving grace of sports

Wait a minute. Did that summer really happen? Could so many things have really gone wrong in such a short time for the sports world? If this summer had been a baseball team, it would have been the ’62 Mets (or as it may turn out, the ’03 Tigers). I mean, it was just pitiful.

First we had the deliciously soap opera-esque story of Sammy Sosa and his corked bat. While this may have shocked some, its most damaging consequence was that it distracted us from baseball’s real problem: the fact that Sosa was my size for the first seven years of his career and then suddenly put on 75 pounds of muscle in roughly the same time it takes for the Cubs to collapse in a pennant race. And he’s obviously not alone.

Honestly, I don’t care if it is steroids or a cupboard filled with supplements. If Hank Aaron had used Sammy Sosa’s pharmacist, he would have hit 955 home runs in his career at the very least. It’s impossible to watch a game and not wonder who’s using what. So while you may think that’s another mammoth home run, it’s actually the game’s integrity leaving your ballpark.

Speaking of losing integrity, the summer turned truly tragic with the death of Baylor University basketball player Patrick Dennehy and the subsequent revelations about his coach, Dave Bliss. In short, Bliss attempted to cover up his own NCAA violations by instructing players and assistant coaches to portray the deceased as a drug dealer. Ever since this story broke, I can’t help but think of Bliss each time I smell a public bathroom.

Then, as the Baylor tragedy unfolded, we got the biggest bombshell of them all: Kobe.

Now, it is way too early to have an opinion one way or the other on his guilt or innocence because we haven’t seen any evidence yet. The only thing we know for sure is that Kobe Bryant is one of the dumbest human beings alive. Not only does he belong in the Hugh Grant Hall of Fame for cheating on his gorgeous wife, he deserves an entire wing in the hall. When you have a wife, a baby and one of the best images in sports, you have to be a complete moron to risk it all because you can’t keep your pants zipped.

So where does that leave us? After all this happened in less than three months, what can the sports fan cling to? What can remind us why we spend so much time following these mere games, as we are sometimes reminded they are? Well, let me be the millionth person to say it – thank God for the NFL (And before I get letters, it’s just an expression).

Yes, thank God for the NFL because we are less than two weeks away from the opening kickoff and I’m guessing many of you are as excited as I am. For those of you who aren’t, I can only say that the true happiness of watching three football games on Sunday has somehow eluded you, and that saddens me. But for those of you who are with me, I’ll bet your mind wanders during the day too, thinking about either your team’s chances this year or, more likely, your upcoming fantasy draft. And those two types of daydreams are what make football the saving grace of sports right now.

First, every team has a chance every year. Even a Bengals fan can find some measure of hope in each season, after seeing the turnarounds in places like St. Louis, Baltimore and New England. Part of that is due to the sheer luck involved in a 16-game regular season, but most of it is due to revenue sharing and salary caps that Pete Rozelle drew up before I was born.

I know this may come as a shock to the baseball players’ union, but revenue sharing and salary caps still allow for players to make millions of dollars, while also allowing a much greater percentage of those players to have a legitimate chance to win.

In baseball, intelligent spending and planning are one of the important factors in success. In football, they are the factor in success. Everyone has the same amount of money to use, and whoever uses it best ultimately succeeds. That’s the way it should be, and it translates into a much happier fan base.

Then there is fantasy football – the greatest invention for the sports fan since television. Without fantasy football, you only care deeply about your team’s game on Sunday. With fantasy football, you care deeply about every game on Sunday.

You go to a sports bar, put your head on a swivel and find new ways to cheer and swear at the exact same moment. You become attached to your players, hoping that everything in Drew Bledsoe’s life is going well so he’ll perform on Sunday. You even start caring about the end of a blowout between Carolina and New Orleans, because if Joe Horn catches one more ball for at least 25 yards, you win. And is there any greater feeling of satisfaction than making the ultimate mid-season pick up?

Football, sweet football. I gush because every August I feel like a 15-year old falling in love for the first time. The anticipation of seeing you next. The joy of our interaction. The unparalleled euphoria of replaying what happened that day over and over again while I lie in bed, counting the days until I see you next.

These are the thoughts I clung to all summer. They kept me going through June and July and only proved themselves real during the preseason in August.

Who’s my President, the bumper sticker asks? It’s not George W. Bush, and it’s sure as hell not Charlton Heston. No, my President is Paul Tagliabue.

Because I know that while baseball and basketball will humiliate themselves time after time after time, like they did this summer, I can always take comfort in the natural fact that the summer has to end. And as classes start and the weather cools, there will always be something good, something true waiting for me – the National Football League.

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