This year the Holiday wasn’t wasted on the game.
The National Football League had a couple of games scheduled for Christmas Day but I couldn’t watch them. Couldn’t, even if I had wanted to. And I didn’t. We were visiting my daughter on her farm. She had just taken ownership and hadn’t yet had time — or, perhaps, the desire — to get cable run up to the house. She could have gone with satellite, I suppose. Might have just slipped her mind. In any event, there was no television.
I suppose that if either of the Christmas games had been streamed, I could have watched the action on my phone. But I was distracted by other things. Christmas dinner, for instance. And, then, there was a year-old baby boy who had presents to unwrap and play with. You could happily watch him for hours and the show was never interrupted for a commercial. Or, rather, several commercials.
It was cold and there was snow. A lot of snow. So it felt good to be inside. When the storm passed, it left the ridge to the west, across the valley, glowing orange like it might have been on fire. And when the light was dying a pack of coyotes set up a howl from somewhere back off the property, in the heavy woods. The sound made you shudder and feel alive.
We went inside and drank hot chocolate and hot tea and, eventually, a little straight bourbon. The day ended not long after the second of the NFL games began. The kids went to bed and the adults were not far behind them.
None of us missed the NFL. I could have checked the scores on my phone, I suppose, but didn’t feel the urgency. The next morning, I learned it had been a good Christmas for teams from Pennsylvania. The Eagles and the Steelers won and will both be going to the playoffs. This is almost routine for the Steelers and a rare thing for the Eagles, who have yet to win a Super Bowl.
It looked, for a while, like this might be the year. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the Eagles’ talented young quarterback, Carson Wentz, was hurt. One of those knee injuries that have become almost commonplace in football. You aren’t really a veteran unless you’ve had your ACL rebuilt.
The Eagles won with their backup but the outlook for the playoffs isn’t good.
The Steelers have a better shot but they will probably have to get by the New England Patriots to make it to the Big Game. If they do, it will be without their longtime defensive star, James Harrison. The Steelers cut him over the weekend. He was visiting the Patriots a few hours later to see if they might be interested in his services. He is 39 and the Steelers were unhappy with the size of his contract. It is a cold business. One that Scrooge would have understood. One that doesn’t seem to harmonize with the spirit of Christmas.
Nor, it seems, with that of New Year’s Eve. The NFL had a game scheduled for that evening — which falls on a Sunday this year — but moved it back to the afternoon. This season has been hard enough on the ratings and the likelihood was that the Sunday night game would have been meaningless as far as the post-season playoffs were concerned and that, therefore, even loyal NFL fans would have bailed.
A pointless game on New Year’s Eve?
Nah. Let’s just get drunk and put on the fool.
So ends a year of discontent for the NFL and its fans. A year of ugly protests by the players, bad calls by the refs, season-ending injuries to the big stars, falling TV ratings and other woes. The game has lost its allure and that sense of invulnerability which once seemed to surround it.
Christmas was fine without it. New Year’s Eve will be fine without it.
Life, it seems, might just go on without it.
The current state of the game recalls those last lines from Randall Jarrell’s poem, “Say Good-bye to Big Daddy”:
The world won’t be the same without Big Daddy.
Or else it will be.