On Sunday night, my last hopes were dashed. Neither of my two football teams made the playoffs. If I drank eggnog, I’d be crying in it. Being an NFL fan has become an exercise in futility, hypocrisy and denial.
It’s hard to imagine life without football. I went to junior high near Birmingham, where people would roll down their car windows at a stoplight and ask you, “Alabama or Auburn?” In that part of the state, Alabama was the only correct answer, and Bear Bryant walked on water. I went to high school in Texas. Our football team was a perennial contender for the state championship. Just like in Friday Night Lights, our coach had to contend with an entire town’s worth of Monday morning quarterbacks. My high school years also happened to coincide with the Dallas Cowboys’ Roger Staubach era. Most of the country either loved or hated Roger and Tony and Butch and Drew and Hollywood and Too Tall. Tom Landry was God and for football fans like me, Texas was heaven.
And then, in 1989, along came Jones . . . shit talkin’ Jerry Jones. He bought the Cowboys for $150 million, kicked our beloved Coach Landry to the curb, and exposed the NFL for the billionaire boys club it has always been. Alright, alright, to be precise, just 18 of the 32 teams are owned by billionaires. The average player salary is a paltry $1.1 million; minimum wage for players (not including bonuses) was $325,000 in 2010. The average NFL player’s career is three years and their salaries are not guaranteed. Once they’re out of the spotlight, many of these young men end up in physical and/or financial ruin, divorced, or even dead. Linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide at the age of 43, is just one recent example of the worst consequences of this violent game. Multiple concussions like those Seau sustained can lead to dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, among other ailments.
So it ain’t all fur coats and fancy cars . . . unless you’re an NFL owner. Owners are kinda like banksters. The rules don’t apply to them. And they don’t have to spend any of their money because we kindly allow them to spend ours instead.
Let’s start with my two favorite teams:
Exhibit A: The Dallas Cowboys. I’ve stuck with the Cowboys through thick and thin. It hasn’t been easy here in Northern California among all the 49ers fans. They play “the catch” on TV here every five minutes, for no apparent reason other than to rub my nose in it (oh, hell no, I don’t have a link). When we lived in Oakland, mr. hfc and I were forced to watch Cowboys games at Ricky’s Sports Bar with other infidels in a dark room hidden in the back of the building; it was kind of like attending a communist meeting in the church basement. And what have I gotten for more than 30 years of devotion? Tony Fucking Romo.
Flickr photo by Roscoe Ellis.
This year, the Cowboys were still in the running to be NFC East champs, despite having an 8-7 record. But we diehard fans knew it wouldn’t be long before Romo started throwing the game away. He didn’t let us down. Three interceptions later, the Redskins are in the playoffs and Dallas goes home a loser, again. So much for a storied rivalry that goes all the way back to when the Cowboys were just a twinkle in owner Clint Murchison’s eye. Redskins owner George Marshall opposed Murchison’s expansion plans because Marshall wanted to keep his monopoly on teams in the South. So Murchison bought the rights to the Redskins’ fight song, Hail to the Redskins, and held it hostage until Marshall relented and supported an expansion team in Texas. When the NFC East Championship was on the line back in the glory days of the Cardiac Cowboys, Roger Staubach engineered a fourth quarter comeback to win the game 35-34. And Harvey Martin of the Cowboys Doomsday Defense returned a funeral wreath to its rightful owners in the Redskins locker room after the game, for good measure.
But the 2012 version of the Cowboys really is the ideal America’s Team: owned by an old white egomaniac who suffers no consequences when they’re 8-8 (other than perhaps a loss of face); a mediocre team at best; yet still the NFL’s most valuable franchise, valued at $2.1 billion. Too big to fail, even though they haven’t been to a Super Bowl in 16 years. And it’s all because of Jerry Jones. If you’re scouting for capitalist pigs, why he’s a first-round draft pick. For instance: the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement excludes the Cowboys’ wholesale merchandise revenues, estimated at $80 million last year; Jerry gets to just hang on to that. He’s sick of being just a common billionaire; he’d much rather be a gazillionaire! Apparently the taxpayers and fans want to help him reach his goal. When Jerry needed money to build his $1.15 billion stadium in Arlington (a suburb of Dallas), Arlington voters approved the increase of the city’s sales tax by 0.5 percent, the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent, and car rental tax by 5 percent. And the NFL gave Jerry a $150 million loan.
But it’s all good, because Six Flags Over Jerry is hella impressive. You better have hella scratch if you want to go to see a Cowboys game there; the Fan Cost Index is the NFL’s highest at nearly $635. Parking alone costs $75, and there’s no public transportation to the stadium.
Y’all, don’t it seem like ol’ Jer could afford to hire hisself a GM and maybe even a Super Bowl QB?
Flickr photo by Jack Nealy.
Exhibit B: The Oakland Raiders.