By Brendan Sean Sullivan.
I’m a huge NFL football fan. But, I have a problem. It’s actually a pretty serious problem which might sound a bit silly to some people. But it’s real. It’s more of a sickness than a problem, really. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone. Surely, there are other men out there across the country in other NFL cities just like me, suffering just as I am – even if they don’t see it yet. And I’m willing to bet that there are quite a few women out there who already know that their husbands also have the same NFL football-related sickness that I have.
Stresses and Strains
My problem: Watching any Philadelphia Eagles game is so stressful that it is actually pushing me to the brink of insanity!
Sounds like a simple problem, right? It sounds almost like the Monday morning rantings of a fan whose team has lost. But, no. This is different. I’m not saying this because my team lost this week – this loss was no different than hundreds of others I have watched over the years. I’m saying this because I have a sickness and I’ve finally realized it.
I’ve actually been this way for years but I’m only seeing it clearly for the first time now. Somewhere in the back of my head I’ve known for a long time that I had “football issues” but I kept shoving the idea down somewhere into the deep recesses of my mind so I didn’t have to deal with it. I disregarded the idea because I did not want to admit that I am so obsessed with the Eagles winning a Super Bowl that it is almost impossible for me to enjoy a game of football that involves my favorite team. It’s a strain…a chore. Football – the greatest game on earth – has stopped being fun for me and there is something seriously wrong with that.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but some time over the last 37 years I became so focused on the my team’s yearly quest to win a Super Bowl that I am now a total mess during any game that isn’t a compete blowout by the Eagles. I yell at the TV like a maniac when they miss a tackle, I scare my family members with my screams of happiness when they score, and I sit there like a powder keg ready to explode again and again with vitriol or joy, play after play after play. Nothing violent mind you – just me hurling loud noises in the direction of a 65-inch electronic device that depicts grown men playing a “game” that is designed to entertain me. The good news is that once it’s over – it’s over and then I just go back to my life and don’t really care much. Until the next time. Because, just like an addict, I come back again and again and again…
During those 60 minutes of playing time (stretched out to an agonizing four hours of viewing time), I am actually clinically INSANE. One popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. In a way, I fit this definition because I have been doing this week in and week out for years. I watch a team that has never won a Super Bowl (while everyone in their division holds multiple titles) and expect good performance and victory every single week.
I’m not sure what was different about this week, but for some reason I finally awoken to the fact that something was wrong with my bizarre, overactive behavior and my unreasonable, unrealistic expectations with regard to this game and this team – “MY” team. Of course, the game and its outcome do not affect my real life at all…I don’t own the team, I don’t work for the team, I don’t gamble on the game, and I still have to go to work the next day whether they win or lose. Hell, I don’t even play fantasy football. But for some reason, I almost inexplicably go crazy for MY team on any given Sunday.
A Crazy Relationship
Obviously, being a fan is supposed to be fun. And it is fun for me leading up to the game. I look forward to it all week, I love listening to sports radio especially on the days leading up to big games, and we have our ritual family Eagles Sunday dinner for good luck every week – all in good fun with no stress at all, just like a normal fan. That is, up until game time.
My sickness starts to creep in just about an hour or so before the teams take the field. Oddly, I start to get nervous. Why do I get jittery and feel like I have butterflies in my stomach? If I was going to play in the game or had mortgaged the house to cover a bet on the outcome, my jitters might be understandable, but I’m about to just sit in my living room and be entertained. (This should have been my first clue that something was wrong). Immediately after kickoff, it gets worse. I become completely unglued. My blood pressure skyrockets, my weekly pounding “Eagles game headache” grows more painful quarter by quarter, and even if they’re playing well and it’s a great game, I am not really enjoying myself (if I’m being completely honest). I am just 100% stressed out the entire time and I am watching just to see if they make it through with the all important “W” – and, in a way, I’m just trying to make it through myself too, because I really just can’t wait until the clock runs out, all the stress is over, and I can stop watching!
The funny thing is I actually really enjoy watching other teams in the playoffs. When the Eagles don’t make it to the playoffs, of course, it is bittersweet for me but it is somewhat of a relief because all of the pressure releases from my body and I can enjoy football again for what it is meant to be – pure, unadulterated enjoyment. It’s awesome, and fun, and exciting, and normal. I love a great game, and the tighter and more competitive the game is the more I enjoy it. But put MY team in even one close regular season game and I go from zero to sixty in 10 seconds and go out of my friggin’ mind for the next 3 or 4 hours.
My Emotional Investment.
I’m sick because I don’t enjoy the game, yet I HAVE to watch it. I feel like I don’t even have a choice in the matter. Like it’s my obligation to watch MY team. Their plight has become a quest in MY life. Why? How did I get so invested in the outcome of these games – something that has no real effect on me?
I thought about it for several hours after this week’s game. I struggled with it, trying to come up with an answer. I tossed it around for hours and hours on end and, after a while, I finally realized the reason: In my mind, I want that Super Bowl more than the Eagles owner, Jeffrey Laurie. More than the coach, Chip Kelly. And, even more than some of the most hard nosed players on the team, like Connor Barwin. More importantly, I finally realized that to hold a belief like that is utterly warped!
Psychologically, I know it makes no sense, but for me it’s real. And it’s slowly killing me inside. No one should ever voluntarily put themselves in any position where their stress level gets so high they literally could have a heart attack. One study I read after coming to this realization, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, unsurprisingly, found that cardiac emergencies in “die hard” male sports fans increased to almost triple the normal rate on days when their favorite sports team played. Yet, that is exactly what I risk a minimum of 16 times every year. So, for my own health and wellbeing, something’s got to give…
Can We Still Be Friends?
This realization has forced me to make a decision. I am going to take a new approach. I NEED to take a new approach in order to make football fun for me again. I’m going to “pretend” that I don’t care. That they are not MY team. I’m not even going to watch every game – ON PURPOSE. (I can’t even believe I am writing these words since I have probably only missed 3 of the last 600 Eagles games – and even those weren’t voluntary – due to the fact that my obsession started when I was 10 years old). I am still going to root for them, watch some of the games, and even check in on the scores when I’m not watching. But I am no longer going to make an Eagles Super Bowl victory a priority in my life. Because that’s where I realize went off track: A game (that I don’t even play) has become too important to me. And it has, in the true sense of the word, made me “crazy.”
So, just like that guy who is obsessed with a girl who he knows is bad for him, I have to step back and give our relationship a little space. It’ll be good for us (well, actually, just for me because I’m pretty sure this girl doesn’t even know I exist).
Brendan Sullivan is an author, lawyer, and former journalist. He recently published his first novel “Irish Blood” which is an historical fiction thriller set in Belfast in the late 1990’s. Brendan lives just outside of Philadelphia with his wife and five children.