by Jeff Laughlin

Reality becomes fantasy so quickly that the subterfuge can hold us hostage.

The president very well could be trying to ruin America, since no man truly knows another’s innermost motives. People can fall in love on camera in a forced situation, because love can prosper anywhere. Dogs might figure out to stop barking if you ignore them because they might have brains like us.

And everyone understands football. Everyone.

No sport has attracted so many geniuses who understand the violence and gamesmanship of football on such a passionate level. Football fans dissect the game with grace and candor, elucidating each play as a meaningful, engrossing pinnacle of athleticism.

Then they start thinking out loud. They love the sounds of their voices above the chorus of violence.

I do not blame football fans for their stupidity. The barbarism of the sport lends to it a certain mythos. Screaming at the top of one’s lungs while a human being lays eviscerated on the turf nurtures the spirit as much as a good book or a long nature walk. Violence and spectacle drive the human experience. I get that.

Talking about sports percolates my being. I have been told that my eyes light up and I start rambling. Get me started on a particularly exciting game and I might not stop talking until you drag me out of the conversation. I’m less inclined to be excited about football, but I still love to watch the game. Increasingly, though, I like to watch it alone.

That goes against everything football fans believe in. Most people need a verification of opinion. They want a high five when their team scores, or someone to console them when their side falls apart. I want that sometimes. But really, I just want to watch the game. That means intense focus at times, and not postulating on the conditional half of sports conversations.

The conditional conversation, or fantasy, supplanted reality a long time ago, and we can only blame ourselves. Like anything, football can be boring and easily explained, so the casual fan turns to Neolithic ways to explain what they are seeing.

Reality: Jordy Nelson dropped a pass. There could be many explanations for this, many of which the announcer will talk about for the next 30 seconds. That’s reality. Then there are the conditional, or fantasy, arguments.

Fantasy: Jordy Nelson plays soft. Receivers today ain’t as good as they used to be. There’s no toughness anymore. These guys get paid too much. Jordy Nelson just got divorced so his head’s not in the game. If it hits you in the hands, you gotta bring it in.

None of this changes the reality, or the actual play: Jordy Nelson still dropped the pass.

I’m more interested in what Green Bay does on third and 8 than I am about Jordy Nelson’s lifestyle choices or how replete he has become with failure.

Still, hang out with anyone long enough for a game — and football games last a sneakily long time — and they will offer their brilliance to you.

And why not? They know the game as well as any coach, any athlete. They’ve been watching their entire lives. And they heard that podcast on the ride home the other day.

They know, better than anyone else, why football’s simplicity shines brighter in their hands than in yours.

Football loneliness is a noble pursuit. Long ago, I ended my less-than-torrid affair with fantasy football — awash with meaningless stats and even more meaningless trash talk from know-nothings. I’ve given up on live football, too. Unless I strike it rich, the game moves at a terrible speed for sitting in the cheap seats. I’ve said goodbye to screaming fans in oversized jerseys, their skin losing that bronzed, summer luster. Let them scream their nonsequitirs at the dopes willing to pay for seats.

I’ve even stopped asking where my people are going to watch the games. I plan to watch with the only fan that will admit to knowing very little after watching for decades: myself. I’m quiet and unassuming, and I’m willing to concede that I’m not entirely sure why I watch at all.

Reality: We know very little about how sports work.

Fantasy: We are Gods of forethought and every move we scrutinize brings us closer to Nirvana.

I reject fantasy. If I am an animal, let me stop shy of the herd — all of them bleating their victorious blood songs — to watch the birds take flight. If you must have me over, at least spare me the braying of cattle.

Otherwise, don’t be mad if I start talking reality. Because I will.


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