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On track for tenure in the field of football watching

As I write this, “Monday Night Football” is on my television. In case I was not aware of its legacy, ESPN reminds me that “Monday Night Football” is celebrating its 45th anniversary. Football and Monday night have had quite the marriage.

Flipping down a channel lands me on a replay of the Washington-Stanford game I attended Sept. 27. The camera angles and replays are a nice spectacle, but I don’t necessarily want to relive the loss.

This past weekend, like every weekend, was for watching football. Saturday is for college, Sunday for the NFL and, in case one does not get enough football in those 48 hours, there’s always Monday night.

Those 48 hours also had me tuning into the news program, “60 Minutes,” where CBS presented a countdown ticker reminding me that “Thursday Night Football” would start in 3 days, 22 hours, 9 minutes and 37 seconds. I don’t know what is more shameful: the fact they used a counter to build suspense or the fact that it worked.

As a football fan, I am always watching some sort of timer. Whether it is my weekly calendar, a countdown ticker presented to me while watching a news show or the two simultaneous clocks running during the actual games, I cannot escape football timers even if I wanted.

If I spent as much time doing any one thing as I do watching football, I would likely be deemed an expert. Apply this logic to the millions of others who engage in this ritualistic task, and we would have many much-needed experts in this country.

However, this is not the case. Instead we have the single field of study: “football watching” – a field flooded with expertise and one which my friends and I alike are on track for tenure.

I am saying much of this tongue-in-cheek because although my love of watching football has never wavered, I am starting to realize the ridiculousness of it all. Of course the games can be entertaining, and it can bring people together while creating community, but a different perspective can help shed some new light.

While at the UW-Stanford game, as I was standing up shouting on third down to assist the defense, an offhanded remark came my way from my friend’s girlfriend.

“Football is funny. You know? Think about the concept and what we are all actually watching,” she said.

I had never really thought of football the way she put it, but I knew exactly what she meant.

An article I recently read helps explain. It broadly defines spectator sports as “a ball being projected into the air (usually), the fans tense up with anticipation as it flies, and that stress is relieved and the reward centers of their brains are excited when the ball, against the odds, is caught or lands and the team they associate with advances.”

What my friend’s girlfriend was telling me was that all 70,000-plus fans in black, purple and gold were roaring at the top of their lungs for said ball.

When viewed from this angle, I cannot help but see football as something I might have been taking a little too seriously. Not just me, but all football fans.

Not only has football become a fact of life, watching it has become such a regimen that it has some of us treating it as if it is our job, secondary only (maybe) to our actual job. Every once in a while it can be healthy to take a step back from the game to see that in some ways it is just a ball being thrown and caught against the odds.

That being said, football is still a wonderful sport with qualities and tradition like none other. It is very much a part of our culture and identity, and still one of the greatest spectacles around. And to that, I will raise a glass to another 45 years of “Monday Night Football.”

Ben Kastenbaum of Tacoma, a graduate of Stadium High School and the University of Puget Sound, is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page. Email him at benkastenbaum@gmail.com.

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