They are in the end at least — whenever the season is finished. Because we slog our way through however-many weeks of stupid pre-game shows and panic attacks and a billion DirecTV commercials — yelling and fretting and giving ourselves Type-12 diabetes — and if we are lucky, we get to do it for another week.
And maybe another.
And another, until we can't.
Until some game-tying field goal or weird onside kick ends the ride in agony — the kind of agony that seems so inevitable that it makes us question why we even do this in the first place.
And that's if it's a good season.
More specifically, for every euphoric Reggie Wayne touchdown in a Miami drizzle there are a thousand Mike Vanderjagts errantly booting our souls in the crotch. For every OMG MARLIN JACKSON PICKED OFF TOM BRADY moment there are a dozen Billy Goddamn Voleks — who was a fourth-string long snapper, by the way — passing for 926 yards and the improbable playoff win and making this city literally demolish the building it happened in, at great effort and expense, because it was just that horrific. (Well, we can never go back in there, folks! LOL sorry!)
Being a Colts fan is agony.
An alarming percentage of NFL players' experiences with this wretched, wonderful sport are also grim.
They are in the end at least — during their lives after football.
Because they slog their way through however-many-years of shattered vertebrae and knee bones and internal organs, irrevocably scrambling their central nervous systems in the process. And if they're lucky, they get to do it for another year.
And another, until they physically can't.
And then they are broken sacks of arthritis and dementia at age 43, hosting the NFL on Fox pre-game show.
They do these awful things to themselves for our viewing pleasure. For our entertainment. They break their bodies and their brains so that we — the fickle fans — can spend our autumn Sundays casually day-drinking and hurling vile insults at them when they false-start for the 11th time that drive. They do this to themselves so that we have the mere chance to win our fantasy football league ... but never do or will, because whoever you draft first will certainly get dysentery or whooping cough the first game and sit out for the next three months.
Being a professional football player is agony.
Nothing about this system should work. Nothing. The players shouldn't be playing and we shouldn't be watching. But they do. And we do. The players have their reasons, we have our own — although none of the reasons are the same or particularly prudent or healthy. They play and we watch because we all can pretend the whole thing won't leave us miserable and homeless in the end, but goddammit it is Right, somehow! It is Good! It is AMERICA, for better or worse, and we've hitched our National Pastime wagon to its corrupt, greedy, misery-inducing Deathstar and we will cling to it until we die. Then we'll cling to it in the afterlife, it seems.
We are weird.
The whole thing is so counterintuitive that it hardly makes sense. Remember this year's first preseason game that happened like 14 light-years ago? The ceremonial, money-grab "game" against the Packers that got canceled because the Hall of Fame Committee tried to paint the field with weaponized plutonium-tar an hour before kickoff? Yeah, the lead-in to that "game" — the "game" that had already been canceled — had a Nielsen television rating that was FOUR TIMES HIGHER than the 100th running of the Indy 500. Jesus.
Football is so dumb and bad and fantastic and addictive, not unlike heroin really. But who cares: TIME TO SHOOT UP, AMERICA! It's football season once more, thank God. Time to get our fix and then lie motionless in the gutter for months on end!
Let us break down this year's Colts schedule using only the most advanced analytics and predictive uber-metrics, or more accurately, whatever the polar opposites of those things are. Because those things are awful and pointless. Only gambling derelicts care about Antonio Brown's YPRR stats, for example, and we are not those. We are normal Americans.
And this is our
Oh, it's just the Lions; why, they are dreadful. Calvin Johnson's gone. What's-his-name Suh is gone. They're the Lions. The Colts will win by 60 points, probably. It will be very boring, When is the Broncos game?
Yeah, no more of that. Those days are gone until proven otherwise. Because last year at this time — before the season opener at Buffalo — everyone was all "Pfffft, the Bills" while doing dismissive jerk-off motions and asking who Tyrod Taylor was. And then Tyrod Taylor and the Bills curb-stomped the Colts into the bleak abyss of NFL mediocrity and nothing was ever the same.
Win by 60? 20? Fuck that. You see, the Colts never trounce ANYBODY, ever — even when they were good and going to the AFC Championship Game. Their largest margin of victory in 2014 was 13 points. Way way way more frequently over the past four years they'd win some nail-biter by 3 or 4 ... or they'd lose by 350 points. There was not much in between. And yet for whatever reasons last year we all just assumed they'd lazily steamroll through the regular season because of Andre "Last Brother Guarding the Grail" Johnson, I guess?
God, we were such idiots.
No, this year is different. We are not idiots anymore. Our eyes are open. We can safely assume that Detroit will wheel Jim Caldwell out to his coachin' pen and he will stand there silently staring into the sun for three hours while the Colts get penalized 412 times for 6,000 yards and the Lions will win on a last-second field goal. That's our reality now, gang.
WEEK 2 at Broncos // September 18, 4:25 p.m.
Here's what I don't get: The Colts were a very not-good team last year, right? I don't remember what their record was exactly but I very much recall that they didn't make the playoffs. And missing the playoffs from the AFC South is like missing the toilet while sitting on it — it requires some creative, next-level ineptitude or witchcraft or what have you, like pooping out of your ear canal all over the floor. And despite this fact, the Colts beat the Broncos. The Broncos. The Super Bowl champions. And a week before that they took the other Super Bowl team — the Panthers — to overtime (and frankly should have beat them).
So to recap: the same team that beat and should have beaten the two Super Bowl teams is the same team that lost to the worst team in NFL Europe, the Jaguars, 51 to 16.
Football is dumb and I don't understand anything about it. ON WITH THE PREVIEW!!
Three nationally televised games in three weeks? Something doesn't feel right about this. It feels ... dirty. And wrong. Like we're being set up.
WEEK 4 at Jaguars // October 2, 9:30 a.m.
THERE IT IS!! It's all coming together now.
Roger Goodell: It's your turn, Jim. I'm so sorry. You're playing in London on October two. Please make the proper arrang-
Jim Irsay: Fuck you, Goodell, we're not going. Who plays football at 4:30 in the morning in Spain or wherever London is?
Goodell: England. Listen, it a great inconvenience, I know. But if Operation: JACKSONVILLEXODUS is ever going to work, we need everyone's cooperation. Look at it as your duty. Protect the Shield, Jim.
Irsay: What's the Shield gonna do for us, Rodney?
Goodell: I'll give you one nationally televised game before London, how's that?
Irsay: GIVE US SEVEN!
Goodell: It's only week four, Jim. I'll give you two.
Goodell: Jesus. Fine. Three. That's literally and mathematically the best I can do. Your broke-ass team doesn't deserve three, but I'll give it to you.
Irsay: Throw in William Tecumseh Sherman's field guitar and you've got yourself a deal.
Goodell: Get out.
The Jaguars are the homeless uncle living in the NFL's basement who everyone has to adjust their lives around in order to accommodate his being around, constantly smoking synthetic weed and eating everyone's food and not paying rent.
That said, they'll probably beat the Colts by 45 points again. I'm already depressed.
The tailgating before this should be colorful. And by that I mean "stabby." Bears fans, man. They're the worst. These people live in Rockford and say that's somehow Chicago and if you point out the absurdness of that they'll roll up their cargo pants and show you their tattoo of Ron Santo's face and then break a bottle of Old Style over your skull. They're the Trump supporters of the North.
WEEK 6 at Texans // October 16, 8:30 p.m.
This is on Sunday Night Football. This game. At Houston. In THE marquee spot. When was the last time the Texans or Jaguars or Titans played on national television that didn't involve Thursday Night Football? Nobody actually watches Thursday Night Football. The whole goddamn country will watch this. And you know, I much prefer the nation at large just assuming the worst about the AFC South; I don't need every single one of their preconceived notions about how awful it is confirmed entirely.
It's like Abraham Lincoln said: "It is better to remain unwatched and be thought completely inept than to be on Sunday Night Football and remove all doubt."
That aside, the Colts will win by two points by strip-sacking Brock Osweiler in the final 30 seconds because that is how all Colts games end in Houston.
WEEK 7 at Titans // October 23, 1 p.m.
This is a game. The Colts play the Titans. It's at 1 p.m. ... on October 23. It's ... you know ... yeah.
When I worked at a golf course in Florida after college, the general manager was from Kansas City and he very much loved the Chiefs. Everything he owned was emblazoned with the Chiefs logo. He was probably 30 or so at the time.
For context here, you NUVO-reading 24-year-olds don't grasp this: growing up in Indy in the '80s and '90s, football wasn't really a thing. As kids, at first we didn't even have a team — and then when we did, they were the Jacksonville Jaguars of the league. They were worse than that, really. We didn't go to games. We didn't watch football or play it or care about it, by and large. To us — growing up here — football was no different than lacrosse. We liked basketball and baseball and Roslyn Bakery AND WORKING THE LAND UNLIKE YOU GARBAGE MILLENNIALS. (Sorry. Got on a roll there.)
Fast-forward to my Chiefs-loving boss in Florida. It was 1998. We set up a fantasy baseball league among all the caddies and maintenance folk and kitchen staff. I don't remember anything about it other than, at the draft, my boss naming his team "FUCK THE NFL."
Me: Umm, what's that about?
Him: IT JUST MAKES ME SO FUCKING MAD THAT THE NFL DOESN'T HAVE GAMES ALL YEAR FUCK THAT SHIT WE HAVE TO SIT HERE FOR EIGHT OR NINE MONTHS DOING JACK SHIT WITH NO NFL GAMES THAT IS SOME REAL FUCKING BULLSHIT AND I'M FUCKING SICK OF IT.
That's damn near verbatim. I swear on the Holy Bible. And worse still, he kept it at a controlled scream throughout. A raging, clinched-jaw quiet yell. He wasn't joking or putting on a show or pranking us. (Trust me, I asked. I swore he was joking. This concept was/is so foreign to me.) He was legitimately, genuinely upset that it was March and NFL football wouldn't be back for another six months. But he wasn't otherwise aggressive or violent or a crazy hillbilly. Quite the opposite.
Anyway, that was my first encounter with a crazed NFL fan. Up to that point, I was not aware that such people existed. They do. They are everywhere in this country. (See the television ratings for the Hall of Fame non-game discussed above.)
Football is weird.
WEEK 9 at Packers // November 6, 4:25 p.m.
I would very much like to go to Lambeau Field. Tickets probably cost upwards of FUCK YOU THOUSAND DOLLARS, but still. And the Colts will lose by 195 points. And it will be negative six degrees and miserable, but whatever. It's a bucket-list item. And if it is for you too, then you'd better be there. Because two days after this game we're all going to die as Trump wins the election and the entire country falls down a sinkhole. That will be neat.
WEEK 10 Bye // November 6, 4:25 p.m.
My old golf course GM probably responds to the bye week very rationally and calmly and not at all by throwing running chainsaws at God. (He totally does that, probably.)
WEEK 11 Titans // November 20, 1 p.m.
Ugh. This is the bowl of gross Chicken in a Biskit crackers my mom puts out to gnash on while she cooks up the Thanksgiving feast. Such a tease. HURRY UP AND BRING FORTH THE TURKEYS AND THE STEELERS, MOM.
WEEK 12 Steelers // November 24, 8:30 p.m.
My God, this will be awesome. Really. Eat turducken and mashed potatoes all day and funnel bourbon all night while screaming obscenities at Ben Roethlisberger's stupid, jowly face. HEAVEN. This city will wake up from its coma sometime around Tuesday afternoon. I don't even care who wins.
WEEK 13 at Jets // December 5, 8:30 p.m.
Going back to the Steelers game because nobody gives a shit about the Jets, there is an important fact I forgot to mention about tailgates downtown. And the fact is this: The further you get from Lucas Oil, the more crazy-ass debauchery you'll see. In the shadows of the stadium — like near the N.K. Hurst building — that's like being in Williams Creek or the Fashion Mall. High-rent shit. That's where Tony George and all the Lilly execs sip their cognac and tinker with the world's grain futures market. It is not debauchery-filled at all.
But then it goes in concentric circles of increasing worry, eventually devolving into pure madness. All the normal folk are about a 10-minute walk from the gates, in the Victory Field parking lot and across from White River State Park or some such similar locale – it's a responsible level of debauchery. Nothing alarming. But get out beyond a 30-minute walk to the stadium — out past the zoo or down where I-70 crosses above Harding Street — and everything becomes the Coke Lot the night before the 500. That's very relevant if you're bringing kids. Or if you don't like getting stabbed in the face with a hand grenade.
I made the mistake of taking my son to his first couple Colts games in a goddamn suite. A buddy asked us to go there with him and seeing as I do not much like spending money on things or my kids or especially things for my kids, I was all, "Sure!" That's a bargain in the world of parenting! Saves me $400 AND we get all the burgers and beer we can tolerate! Thumbs up, right?
Because kids are jerks and they insist on doing fun things over and over, my wife made me take him to a game again last year. But this time it was on my own dime. There was no sugar daddy inviting us into the wonderful, luxurious suite full of hired help and free liquor and all manner of foodstuffs. So I bought our broke-ass shit on Ticketmaster like a sucker. I didn't tell him this until we were walking into Lucas Oil Stadium.
The boy: Which suite are we in?
Me: The one smack dab in the middle of Section 632, like row 19 or something. It's the people's suite!!
The boy: [stunned, horrified look on his face as he realized there was no suite
I may as well have told him we were hopping on a westward train to live the hobo life forever. He simply could not accept that we'd be amongst the unwashed masses. What an asshole. I created his gross football snobbiness, yes — through my own cheap ways. And BY GOD it is my job from here on out to disabuse him of it. We'll watch games from Section 42,000,000 with the drunks and the thieves and the pigeons until its beaten out of him for good. Only then will we begin inching our way downward toward semi-respectable seats. Nobody likes a football snob. That is wildly unacceptable. It's like watching the game with Spalding from Caddyshack. I suck.
WEEK 15 at Vikings December 18, 1 p.m.
You know who holds the record for most rushing yards in an NFL game? Adrian Peterson. It's true! (296 yards against the Chargers, November 4, 2007. #analytics!) This is by no means an exaggeration: He will TRIPLE that against the Colts. That's how bad this Colts' defense is ... and also how reliant the Vikings are on Peterson. Holy shit he's going to rush for 800 plus yards! That's going to be both miserable and exhilarating — like early morning swimming for exercise.
Vikings by a lot.
Raiders will kick the shit out of the Colts as well. They're just good, somehow. The Colts could very well be in the midst of a five-game losing streak at this point. Let's play it conservatively and say they're 7-and-8 heading into the final game of the regular season. In every other division throughout the history of the NFL, that gets you booted from any and all playoff scenarios.
In the AFC South, however, this puts the Colts in the proverbial catbird seat. Because the AFC South is puke and needs to be sent down to Double-A Shreveport.
WEEK 17 Jaguars // January 1, 1 p.m.
Honest to God, the Colts will be playing this game for a playoff berth. Mark it down. And they will win — because, the Jaguars. And then literally anything is possible. The Colts could lose their wild-card game by 700 points. Or they could go to the Super Bowl. Who knows?!
The NFL is so dumb LONG LIVE THE NFL.