I've not watched much of the NFL this season.
Like many fans, I was put off by players suffering brain damage and other injuries. Although I knew I would have a tough time giving up the sport, I decided it was time to leave behind the NFL's brutality.
Then the Saints, whom I gave up for dead after two opening-season losses, won seven games in a row. Their exciting rookie running back Alvin Kamara, and a rejuvenated Mark Ingram, excited the Crescent City and its far-flung fans. The Saints, whose Kleenex tissue defense drove me crazy for years, began reasonably resembling the old Steeler Steel Curtain.
So, like the alky who can't resist a tavern's flashing neon lights, I was back on the couch Sunday watching the Saints play the Redskins. For most of the game, the Saints played like they'd spent a little too much time on Bourbon Street the night before. With 3 minutes left, the hangover shot kicked in, and behind the splendid Kamara and Ingram, and the ageless Drew Brees, the Saints erased a 15-point deficit to win in overtime.
Smile, Jay Gruden. You're on Candid Kamara.
As I did my Who Dat Dance, I realized that with the weather growing cooler and the holidays rushing toward us, the NFL's alleged falloff in TV viewership will go away.
College football now rules the clear, warm days of September and October. Beginning on Labor Day, nearly every college game is broadcast, filling Saturdays from noon until past midnight. In the NFL's heyday of the 1960s through 1990s, relatively few college games were available on TV, and strong teams didn't receive the national attention they do now.
Now, the nostalgia of sunlit campuses is irresistible, before the weather turns bad, later and later with the advent of climate change. After gorging themselves on college games on Saturdays, fans are sick of football by Sunday, not wanting to spend more time in front of the TV watching the NFL, which over the years has grown less experimental and more predictable than the college game.
After staying inside on gorgeous autumn Saturdays, fans are ready for outdoors activities on Sundays. The NFL has also expanded its schedule, with Sunday night and roundly reviled Thursday night games joining the long established Monday night and early and late Sunday afternoon lineup.
College football with a last burst of fireworks winds down this Friday and Saturday, leaving weekends to the pros. Sure, the colleges will have bowls and the NCAA playoffs remaining, but they don't draw fans away from the NFL as does the regular season.
As the weather outside grows frightful and the fire so delightful, there's something reassuring about watching NFL players crash into each other in snowstorms and on frozen fields. (Domed stadiums ruin this effect.)
By this time in the season, interest grows as we know which teams like the Saints and Philadelphia Eagles will have unexpected success.
As year recedes and winter arrives, NFL fever grows warmer. Despite the sport's cruelty, old-time fans like me will come back to the game we loved since childhood. Young fans will discover that no sports passion matches the love for an NFL team.