The Dead Season

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January 28, 2004
The Dead Season

by Bob Hulsey

Unless I really care who wins the Super Bowl (and this year I don’t), the conference championship games represent the end of football season to me. Now comes the detox.

I find myself less and less enthusiastic about the Big Game each year (although I’m glad it has found its way to Houston and hope that the Houstonians get some nice perks out of this) because it annually seems like less of a football game and more like a giant tax write-off. The commercials get more ink than the game does. The halftime entertainment and the 21-1/2-hour pregame show gets harder to endure each year ("coming up next on the Levitra Super Bowl Pre-pre-pre-Game Show, Mike Vanderjagt shows Jay Z how to go ice fishing, right after this timeout…").

That’s not to say the players don’t play hard or that the champions have no cause to celebrate, but 90 percent of what surrounds the Super Bowl seems irrelevant to the actual game and reminds me of a child with ADD trying too desperately to hold our attention. It’s duller than sitting through another Scott Peterson pre-trial motion and just as blown out of all sensible proportion by our media ("coming up next on the Enzyte Super Bowl Pre-pre-Game Show, Eminem takes Randy Moss shopping for retro jersies, right after this timeout…").

It’s enough to numb you into thinking that Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms are adequate broadcasters. Or that Armen Keteyan and Leslie Visser have a clue. ("coming up next on the Viagra Super Bowl Pre-Game Show, we’ll ask Dr. Phil about Steve Smith’s anger management problems, right after this word…").

But that’s really all the football that’s left unless you want to count the Pro Bowl. Folks, I may be something of a pro football addict, but even I can’t work up an ounce of interest in the Pro Bowl. I care more who gets named to the teams than the game itself. If you meet someone actually looking at the point spread of the Pro Bowl, be kind and send him to Dr. Phil (unless, of course, he’s Al Michaels).

The game itself is utterly pointless other than to rub it into the northern half of the country that the weather is freakin’ miserable where they live. It’s sort of like Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, which has become an advertiser-driven piece of politically-correct softcore porn, if not an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog. It exists for nothing else than to imply that you’re missing out, pal, and you need to spend money to fix it. It’s cruelty disguised as entertainment.

Anyway, the true football withdrawal symptoms begin the weekend after the championship games. Anyone who has lived with a football fan has seen it — the glazed look, the constant channel flipping, the pacing like a caged tiger trying to figure out what to do with oneself since there is nothing to watch. Too cold to mow the lawn. Time to count members of the household just in case anyone has left you since August.

Like a nicotine patch, I can use old videotapes – NFL Films and ESPN Classic to help with the withdrawal – but it just doesn’t feel the same watching when you already know the outcome. Part of the thrill of football season is not knowing what will happen next. I’ll still miss my weekend fix.

This happens to me every year until baseball’s regular season starts.

College basketball is not interesting until March. Here’s all you need to know until then: if a team is any good at all, it goes to the NCAA tournament. So why watch before anything actually matters?

The NBA is just as bad. The entire regular season exists just to eliminate the Clippers and a dozen other teams. No need to watch that until April and, even then, it’s getting harder to watch a league of college dropouts who can’t score as many points in 48 minutes as their stay-in-school counterparts can put up in 40. For better entertainment, make the NBA a drinking game. Take a belt every time Bill Walton says "horrrrrrrible". You’ll be sloshed by halftime.

The NHL is bit by the same bug. There’s nothing to care about until the playoffs start since any team with a winning record (and a few that aren’t) make the playoffs. That won’t begin until late March.

NASCAR? The only excitement comes when somebody mistakenly makes a right-hand turn.

Golf or tennis? Come back when there’s a major on television.

Winter sports programming is (as Bill would say) horrrrrible, and they know it. Look at what they’re doing for ratings — Michelle Wie? The Westminster Dog Show? Poker tournaments? The X Games? February is the time of year sports programmers get all the bad ideas out of their system. Remember the XFL and the Salt Lake Olympics?

The best development in recent years is the NFL salary cap. At the end of February, teams start throwing their overpriced players overboard in a mad dash to get under an artificial spending limit. We can be treated to days of players with their noses out of joint and demanding "respeck". They’ll give you that "football is just a business" schtick when they’re filing for free agency but let them get cut just before their $12 million dollar bonus comes up and these tough guys start bawling like Dick Vermeil. They’ll show the same "but I thought you loved me" hurt look that their seven girlfriends probably give them when the truth hits home. Now THAT’S entertainment!

I really should count my blessings. Two years ago, there was the Texans expansion draft as a diversion. Last year, there was the fun of watching pathetically impotent war protestors pretending they were 1960s hippies all over again. The most depraved were the "human shields" that went to Iraq and then had the nerve to tell Saddam Hussein which targets they would pretend to shield. When they were told to stand in front of munitions factories instead of hospitals, most of them bugged out.

But now that Howard Dean is fading, I see no such entertainment appearing on the horizon this spring. It’s inescapable. The DTs are already starting.

The truly desperate will treat every missive from Mel Kiper Jr. as manna from Heaven. They’ll furrow their brow over seven-round mocks as if anybody could accurately predict who the Texans would (ahem) choose in the seventh round. They’ll entertain thoughts of suing Pro Football Weekly for fraud when it only comes out monthly.

As dependable as the rising cost of home heating oil, it happens every year at this time. I know it’s coming but I dread it like a trip to the dentist. Wake me when Roger Clemens takes the mound for Opening Day.

Bob Hulsey is so bored he is reduced to playing old baseball sims and doing this for amusement.

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