By Christian Schneider
OK let’s face it: If you’re a citizen of the United States, have been aware of the existence of the NFL, and remain unaffiliated with any team’s fanbase, the last year probably didn’t do much to win you over. Outside of the Blacksox Scandal in 1919, it’s hard to pick a single season that has been so crappy for a league. Between domestic abuse, concussions, early retirement for the sake of avoiding brain damage, and a really obnoxious cheating scandal involving the eventual Super Bowl champs, the NFL really wasn’t the sexy pick when you flipped on the idiot box. I watched the Super Bowl with a hybrid group of football fans and non-fans. I would say the primary focus of that viewing party (apart from, “Wow, Christian’s going to break something valuable if the Patriots lose”) was what on earth that one Dancing Shark was doing during the halftime show.
The good news? There’s a brand new season to be played and, let’s face it, there’s no WAY it’s gonna be as messy as last year. We may yet have a few converts and it is incumbent upon us at the 51-Yard Line to assist these potential recruits on how to understand the game and to select a team to support. We are here for you, my Community-watching, kale smoothie drinking, “Let’s-do-a-wine-tour-in-Santa Barbara-Labor-Day-Weekend” friends (by the way, those are all perfectly wonderful attributes, they simply don’t match the prototypical football fan).
First, a brief rundown of the league:
There are two Conferences, the NFC (the conference with the team that is going to win the Super Bowl this year) and the AFC (the conference with the team that won’t).
The Super Bowl is the last game of the year and features the two champions of those conferences. You probably know it as the Bruno Mars concert with a lot of funny ads and those obnoxious football interruptions. It’s also the world’s biggest Cheat Day. Example: my friend Zoe brought roughly 250 Taquitos to our last Super Bowl party and we got through nearly all of them.
The regular season is 17 weeks and there are 16 games played. Teams each have one week off called the “Bye Week,” usually spent doing all the things that you read about in Time magazine last year. It’s also the reason your football fan friends abruptly get furious with themselves for no apparent reason. The actual reason is that they have forgotten that one of their Fantasy league players has a Bye Week and they are still starting them that week. This means they will lose and have less of a chance to win the betting pool. It’s kind of like getting a mini parking ticket because of street sweeping.
There are 22 players on the field at a time, 11 defense and 11 offense. The Quarterback is the one that matters. He’s the one who throws the ball. You don’t have to learn the names of ALL the players, but you do need to know the QB (QB means the Quarterback, for all of you slow on the uptake). If you don’t know the QB, the other fans will know you are a newbie and they will hit you with the obligatory “Do you live under a rock?” rhetorical question.
You will notice that there are a lot of referees. A lot a lot. They are the villains. They throw yellow flags when a player commits a foul and you will note that this seems to happen quite frequently. The best tip I can give a new fan is to swear every time a flag is thrown. No one likes flags.
Catching the ball in the end zone is cool and gets you more points, kicking the ball through those poles that would be utterly pointless in any other capacity is not cool and gets you less points. Kickers, the ones who look like they could be selling auto insurance rather than playing a professional sport, are lame, unless their name is Adam Vinatieri. He kicked two goals in the snow in this one game and that was the only time a kicker was cool.
As far as fan etiquette goes, alcohol is a must. If you’re watching a game and not drinking SOMETHING people will not trust you. And don’t go the club soda route. That’s cool if you’re a DD on a Saturday night. It is suspicious on a Sunday afternoon. Beer is preferable, but whiskey drinks are perfectly acceptable.
Trash talk is tricky. A little friendly ribbing never hurt anyone, unless you’re doing it to an Eagles fan (they’re crazy, but more on that later). Really getting on someone when their team is losing is a bad idea, unless they are a Vikings fan (they’ll probably agree with you and go one step further, they have had their hearts broken so many times). As a new fan, you would do well to keep it under raps, unless you want to insult a player’s appearance (Andrew Luck, Odell Beckham Jr., and Nick Foles are names you are gonna want to remember if that interests you) because that doesn’t require football knowledge and opposing fans won’t be offended by that.
But all of this is of secondary importance. What really matters, what will define you every Sunday for the next 17 weeks (except for one, remember that Bye Week!) is the TEAM you choose to root for. Picking a team is a delicate and precise process. You need to find a team that matches your personality and background and that you will be able to love and make a multitude of excuses for. They’re like that problematic boyfriend/girlfriend you had; you keep justifying their shit because they’re yours and it’s your job to find the good in them.
So here are the teams (and team types) that you can choose from. Firstly, and most importantly:
The Home Team: The easiest and least controversial choice. No one’s gonna give you crap for rooting for your home city’s team. That’s what you are supposed to do. Even if the team is bad or has bad people on it, you are still representing your people and fans respect that. If you don’t live in a city with a team, then go with the one from your state. If you don’t have a team in your state, then do a Google Maps search and go with the one closest to your hometown. If you still can’t figure it out after that, then you are probably from Montana, Wyoming, or Utah and it’s a miracle you were able to read this far into the article.
Now, there are two notable exceptions to the Home Team Rule:
1) Los Angeles: Yes, I agree, it’s weird that LA doesn’t have a football team. Please return to this site in two years for the 2017 edition of this piece. If you desperately need a team, go with the one closest to your birthplace. And, yes, I know you weren’t born here.
2) Washington, DC: You can’t root for the Redskins. They are a steaming pile of donkey crap. They have an offensive name, a perennial losing record, a dickweed owner, and even their General Manager’s wife is mean. You should root for the Ravens. They have their own problems (see Lewis, Ray) but they aren’t nearly as bad as the ‘Skins.
Now, if you don’t want to go the conventional route, here are 15 of the best options for you:
(In Alphabetical Order)
Bengals: Are you a gamer, who just can’t seem to get past that one level no matter what you do? These are the guys for you. Also, if you are a ginger, they have one at QB.
Warning: People will tell you all year that they will lose in the first round and then they will do it.
Bills: Are you the kind of person who deals with long-term frustration by being loud and violent? This is the perfect team for those who blow off steam by aggressively popping the bubble wrap that comes with a newly delivered FedEx package. Also, their coach is famous for having a foot fetish.
Warning: Don’t mention the name Scott Norwood. Don't do it. In fact, forget I even mentioned him.
Cardinals: Did your housemates throw a really great party last year but you had to stay in bed and listen to the festivities because you had caught mono at a really inopportune time? Look no further than Arizona. Carson Palmer really gets you.
Warning: Your fellow fans will be white people from Arizona, which means they’re either retired, or jerks, or both.
Colts: Do you like Stanford-educated, insanely likeable, ultra-talented, lumberjacks? Does your no-shave November result in an abysmal looking neckbeard? These guys will treat you just fine. Also, they throw the ball a lot. Which is fun.
Warning: You’re gonna hear the numbers 45 and 7 a lot.
Cowboys: Did you wet the bed at a sleepover when you were 11 and your buddies never let you forget it, even though you've totally got your act together now? Tony Romo and "dem Boyz" are for you. Also, their cheerleaders are the hottest, their stadium is like an arcade, and their owner is the real life version of J.R. Ewing. If you hated Jessica Simpson circa 2007 then you will fit right in with Dallas.
Warning: They call themselves “America’s Team” but that’s because America hates them.
Dolphins: Are you well-adjusted, straight-A student, who doesn’t party on weekends, but has a bunch of BDSM equipment in her basement? Look no further than the Dolphins. Their bright colored jerseys and picture-book QB will fit right in with your goody-two-shoes façade, but your secret sadism will be satiated when Ndamukong Suh inevitably breaks someone’s leg on a really dirty hit.
Warning: They tend to let their fans down despite the expectation that they’ll get better because of the people they have. They’re kind of like the Hobbit movies.
Eagles: Do you primarily watch action movies and are impatient during the scenes with plot and character development? Eagles have all the excitement of a high powered offense with none of the boring malaise of defense.
Warning: Their fans threw snowballs at Santa this one time. It was pretty bad.
Giants: Are you from New York? Do you love making New Englanders sad? Are you a regular screwup who twice a decade gets really lucky in a big way, like win the lottery, or get to go backstage and meet Beyonce? Giants are for you. Also, Odell Beckham Jr.
Warning: It’s kind of like being on a really strict fitness regimen; it’s ultimately worth it, but it’s a LOT of crap to get where you want to.
Jets: Are you from New York? Do you love making New Englanders happy? Are you a regular screwup? J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!
Warning: They suck.
Packers: Have you ever considered committing yourself fully to an ideal? To lay your life on the line for something bigger than you, but joining the military or FEMA wasn’t really your cup of tea? Get your cheese hat now.
Warning: You’re gonna get a lot cheese and “Fudgepacker” jokes. Also, you need to have State Farm as your insurance provider.
Patriots (homer version): Are you a leader of men and God’s gift to sports fandom? Are you committed to excellence? Is your one flaw a psychotic addiction to winning? Grab your musket and meet me on the green. We are ALL Patriots.
Warning: You will be constantly forced to tolerate the jealousy of others. Just remember at all times that it’s important to pity those who are less fortunate than you.
Patriots (unbiased version): Were you the teacher’s pet who snuck a cheat sheet into pop quizzes and then became the valedictorian? Was Eddie Haskell your favorite character on Leave It To Beaver? Do you hope Roose Bolton winds up on the Iron Throne because he’s ruthless and his methods are effective? Are sweatshirt sleeves for wusses?
Warning: Everyone will hate you. And it’s largely your own fault.
Raiders: Do you just wish the game would end so you can get on with that murder you had planned for Sunday afternoon?
Warning: Team may be relocated to LA
Seahawks: Do you feel like you haven’t been given the credit you deserve at, well, anything? Did you always win the “Penis” game in school because you love to yell and don’t care what other people think? Did you have an incredible 4 years in college but had your fly unzipped when you went up to get your diploma, ending your last semester in the most mind-numbingly stupid way possible? Your new favorite number is now 12.
Warning: There is a chance that you just missed your shot getting the best possible return. It’s like selling your stocks one quarter too late. Also, you will be called a bandwagoner. A lot.
Texans: JJ Watt.
Warning: Their offense is pretty bad.
Vikings: Can you just never catch a break no matter what you do? Do you feel like *ahem* the roof could cave in at any second? Do you get the sense this year is gonna be better? Did someone important in your life do something really crappy and everyone was talking about it but you’re still prepared to give them a second chance? Is ketchup too spicy for you? Blow the horn baby, the Vikes are for you.
Warning: Have you ever seen or read The Unbearable Lightness of Being? Remember how their lives had been so downtrodden and miserable that the idea of freedom and success terrified them? Vikings fans are kind of like that. Also, the Scott Norwood rule applies to the Vikes with Gary Anderson.
Well that’s that. Hopefully, you will be able to pick a winner out of that bunch by tomorrow morning. I hope this has been of assistance to the 1% that make up the non-football fan portion of our readers and of amusement to the 99% that obviously watch. Football is back people! Happy viewing to all and enjoy your Sunday.