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Matt Crossman | November 24, 2015

Cold Turkey: Life without football, far from the Madden crowd

Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Cold Turkey

Life without football, far from the Madden crowd

by Matt Crossman

Let’s just get this out of the way: Football, as a game, is really kind of dumb. Eleven men on each team line up, run into each other, fall down, get up, and do it again. Sometimes someone throws the ball, sometimes someone catches it and keeps going in the direction the ball was headed. Less often than that, someone else catches it and runs back toward where the ball came from.

The 22 men repeat this over and over, ad infinitum, or until a little bitty guy kicks the ball through two metal poles to win. Or wide of the poles to lose.

And many of us love it. We gather in front of the glowing shrines in our living rooms to watch, to imagine those giants are us, to curse their sins and glory in their wins, to live and die with every point, every play, every game. And we don’t just watch. We talk and tweet and read and watch the waiver wire and brag about the epic fantasy football trade through which we fleeced that yutz.

The hopes and dreams of entire cities rise and fall upon this frivolity, not just on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and not just in those cities but all day, every day, inside, outside, online, offline, everywhere.

Or so it seems. My attempt to boycott football in the last month and a half—to never see anything about it, hear anything about it, read anything about it, in any way, in any medium, in any setting—failed so spectacularly and in so many ways and so many places that it has left me questioning how 11 men trying to move a ball across a line, and 11 more trying to stop them, has come to so dominate American life.

At the very least, I wish we had better things to talk about as we stuff ourselves with turkey.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, part one

The first thing I do in my quest to hide from football is make a list of the obvious ways it might find me: TV, radio, newspaper, Internet. Avoiding football on TV and radio will be easy—I hardly ever turn either one of them on anymore. The newspaper will be easy, too. We cancelled our subscription a few months ago because the newspaper couldn’t consistently execute the delivery part.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Internet will be much harder, especially considering how much I use it for work. It’s not a coincidence that the last story I read before cutting off all football contact is about the death of Paul Oliver. I overhaul my reading routine, vowing never to go to any sports website unless I know there won’t be football news, like MLB.com and NASCAR.com. ESPN.com, CBSsports.com, BleacherReport.com, FoxSports.com, yes, even SBNation.com all make my verboten list.

I think that will be enough to insulate me. But I soon learn it’s like trying to stop gravy from spilling off my plate with a fork. Logging onto Twitter is like sticking a needle in my arm and injecting football into my blood. I unfollow all the sportswriters I follow, plus friends, family and anybody else who tweets about football a lot. That leaves me following theologians and “regular” writers. Yet after a few hours, something remarkable happens, or more to the point, doesn’t happen: There doesn’t seem to be a decline in the football news traipsing across my timeline.

I unfollow everybody.

Aside from those changes, I decide I will live my normal life. I will not leave my family and flee to the mountains. I will not hide in my office. If my friends bring up football, I will tell them I can’t talk about it.

Full disclosure, as I start I have a few hours of work to do on a story about the rising value of Super Bowl memorabilia. I give myself time outs when I need them to finish that over the first few weeks. But I will turn down every new football assignment that comes up—which, much to my chagrin as a freelance writer who is almost always in search of work, happens more than once.

Whose idea was this anyway?

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, part two

I thought TV wouldn’t be an issue. My cable package is so basic I don’t even get ESPN, the NFL Network or any other sports channel. I haven’t watched more than a few minutes of a non-Lions-on-Thanksgiving regular season game in a long time. But I learn, not for the last time, that avoiding TV will be a huge problem for me in maintaining this fast. Televisions, it seems, are everywhere.

I got a haircut at Sports Clips. The name should have clued me in. There was a TV within arm’s length as I sit in the chair. I refused to look at it—closing my eyes, even. But I heard Herm Edwards yelling at some player, and by extension me, because that player turned his hips or his shoulders too soon. My kingdom for a mute button.

I refuse to set foot in Sports Clips again until the fast is over. That thought makes me want to get more ambitious. If I want to really boycott the NFL, to make a statement about the state of the game right now - (bad) and its power and influence in society (also bad) relative to its merits (worse still), I have to stop buying products that sponsor the NFL and stop buying products from companies owned by team owners. I have to speak truth to the powerful in the only language they understand: money.

I find unchartered waters here. There are three “boycott NFL sponsors” pages on Facebook … but they combine for only 150 likes. By means of comparison, a Facebook page called “An Arbitrary Number of People Demanding That Some Sort of Action Be Taken” has more than 2,600 members.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

I make a list of NFL sponsors so I can stop doing business with them either forever or until this story gets published and … uh-oh. Without me realizing it, the NFL has already insinuated itself deeply into my life. To boycott the NFL, I would have to get rid of my business and personal credit cards, bank, cell phone carrier and cable company, which would be hard enough, but many competing companies in those fields are NFL sponsors, too.

I would have to throw out (almost) everything in my fridge because I bought (almost) everything in it at the official grocery store of the Carolina Panthers. I could not eat Quaker Oats, Sabra hummus, Doritos or anything made by Mars Inc. I could not drink Starbucks, Pepsi, Coke, Dr Pepper, Snapple, Coors or Budweiser. I am grateful that I couldn’t find evidence of Yuengling being an NFL sponsor, and by “couldn’t find” I mean, “didn’t look for.”

I would have to rip the Michelin tires off of my 2007 Pontiac Vibe, because Michelin is the Buffalo Bills’ official tire. Then I’d have to throw the rest of the Vibe away, too, because the Vibe was half made by Toyota, which has sponsorship deals with several teams, and half by GM, which was the NFL’s official car manufacturer for 14 years before losing the deal this summer.

I would, unfortunately, be able to keep my 1997 Mazda Protégé.

Because of the relationship between the NFL and Dairy Management Inc., I could not pour milk in my kids’ cereal or dump half-and-half into my coffee or eat cheese … and that’s where I give up. There is no story in heaven or hell worth not eating cheese to complete.

I try to find something less than a full-scale boycott and more than not watching games. What if I just ignored the NFL—acted like it didn’t exist? That might be the NFL’s worst nightmare anyway. Well, scratch that. The NFL’s worst nightmare is that one team owner will have one less dollar tomorrow than he has today. But the NFL would certainly hate to be ignored.

I decide to try to never find out who wins a single game, never find out who’s playing whom, when or where they are playing, never see or hear an advertisement, never see or hear a highlight, never have the word “NFL” or any of its variations cross my eyes or ears.

I throw college football into the mix, too, because I live in the South, and I love a challenge.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 28

Kevin Burrell, one of the associate pastors at my church, takes as his text Acts 17:23, in which the apostle Paul preaches in Athens about coming upon a statue dedicated “To an Unknown God.” It was one of many statues there, all examples of the idolatry that inflicted Athens in the first century.

As Burrell’s message draws to a close, he tells the cushy, comfortable congregation of Stonebridge Church Community in suburban Charlotte, of which I am a member, to imagine Paul walking around our city and analyzing our statues. Rewriting Paul’s text to fit our city, Burrell says, “I saw your eight altars to the Great Black Panther, where many of you worship on Sundays.”

As Burrell says this, he clicks a remote control. The screens bookending the stage flicker to life. Everybody immediately recognizes the statue that appears there: a giant Panther outside Bank of America Stadium. A nervous murmur circulates through the crowd as the members realize we’ve just been called out for violating one of the Ten Commandments.

Craig Jones /Allsport

After Burrell’s sermon ends, I walk over to tease him about breaking my fast. A friend intercepts me before I get to Burrell. As we’re both from Michigan, he starts talking about the Detroit Lions. (Summary of the many conversations we’ve had on the subject: Me: “They suck.” Him: “Totally.”) I tell him I can’t talk because of the boycott.

After church, I fly from Charlotte to Erie, Pennsylvania, with a stop in Philadelphia. I count 10 NFL teams represented on clothing I see. I decide not to consider spotting people wearing football gear as a violation of the fast because if I did my fast would be broken nearly every time I leave the house.

As the plane taxis in Philadelphia, I overhear a man saying the Cowboys are winning. On a shuttle bus, as I look at the floor, a man moves his smartphone into my line of sight. The live box score he is watching reports a score of 24-7; I avert my gaze before I see the teams involved. As I approach my gate, I hear Joe Buck’s voice, so I know an NFL game is on. I stay far enough away so I don’t see or hear who is playing.

I’m up to five violations, and I haven’t even eaten dinner.

As bad as the day has been so far, dinner gets much worse. I have an interview to conduct. I didn’t want to be rude (or sound like a nut job) by insisting we eat somewhere with no TVs, so I let the interview subject pick the place. Besides, it is his town, what do I know of the restaurant scene in Erie, Pennsylvania? All of which is an attempt to explain why, while trying to boycott football, I find myself in a Buffalo Wild Wings on a Sunday evening.

Maureen Sullivan/Contributor

I feel like Jonah fleeing from Nineveh. I open my eyes inside the whale’s belly, and I’m surrounded by who knows how many televisions, all of them showing NFL games or NFL news or NFL highlights. NFL pictures cover the walls, and men, women and children in NFL jerseys fill every seat.

There is almost nowhere for me to look that won’t count as a violation of the fast. I double down on eye contact. However, I must confess, I fail—a lot. When the entire restaurant starts hollering, I look up. I try not to, but I can’t help it. And sometimes I look up just because there are so many TVs in front of me.

The interview subject is a Bills fan, so I know the Bills crush the Dolphins today, as well as multiple other outcomes.

To recap: In one day, my football fast is broken at church (twice), on a plane, on a shuttle bus, in an airport terminal and at dinner (so many times I couldn’t count them). I go to bed feeling like football’s favorite prey, its talons sunk deep into my neck and its beak ready to pluck out my eyes.

O, Where can I go that it isn’t already there?

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29

I eat at a Bob Evans. I bring a USA Today with me. I close my eyes, grab the sports section and throw it onto the seat across from me so I can’t see it. The waitress comes by a few seconds later. Thinking she is being helpful, she picks it up and puts it back on the table. I push it back off.

I will not touch another newspaper throughout the fast.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 2

I wake up in a hotel in Paducah, Kentucky. My daughters, wife and I walk down to the breakfast buffet. I sit facing away from the TV to avoid highlights, even though I doubt there will be any because it is turned to The Today Show.

I overhear Matt Lauer say something about how much toilet paper the New York Jets will take with them to London.

I just … what?

Of all the places I thought the NFL fast would take me, the Jets’ john was not one of them.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 4

Hurricane Joaquin soaks North and South Carolina. A photographer friend posts scary pictures of flooding in Charlotte. I’m on a working vacation in St. Louis, and I worry my house in Charlotte might float away. I click on CharlotteObserver.com, thinking that historic flooding surely will be the lead story. Instead, I learn from the lead story that the Panthers have beaten the Buccaneers to move to 4-0.

Because of that, in addition to not visiting sports websites and not reading newspapers, I will no longer visit local news sites.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9

My wife offers to take me out for lunch to the best barbecue place in St. Louis. I cringe. I love barbecue. But there will be TVs there. And TVs mean football. Enticed by glowing reviews, I vow to exercise self-control. I promise myself I will look at my wife, not the TVs.

We get our food, sit down, and dang-it-all, I steal a glance at the screens. But they’re safe. The TVs all show baseball. The Cardinals are alive in the postseason, so St. Louis is only vaguely aware that football exists.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11

On the way home from St. Louis, we stop overnight in Cookeville, Tennessee. You know you’re at an awesome hotel when a sign on the desk reports how much your bill will go up if you steal the alarm clock. As a fast-related sacrifice, we did not stay in a Marriott, the official hotel of the NFL, which means no points, which for a sports writer is like … is like … well, I can’t think of anything worse.

At breakfast I see a man wearing a Carolina Panthers jersey, another man wearing a Buffalo Bills jersey and what I assume is his young daughter wearing a Buffalo Bills cheerleader outfit. I don’t understand that combination of teams, considering Cookeville sits only an hour from where the Tennessee Titans play home games. I don’t know if the Titans, Panthers or Bills are playing today, home or away. I’ve lost track of what NFL week it is—are there byes yet?

As I climb in the car to head home, I think this will be an easy Sunday to avoid football. To get home to Charlotte, I have a 339-mile drive, which, with my two daughters in the car, translates into approximately 426 hours. To avoid football, all I have to do is not turn on the radio.

I fill my gas tank before heading out.

On the gas pump is a screen.

On the screen is a commercial.

In the commercial is J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans.

It’s 9:30 a.m., and my fast is broken already.

Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13

I blame travel for most of the violations so far. I’ve been to Erie and Toronto, and driven from Charlotte to St. Louis and back. In two weeks, I stayed six nights in hotels and ate out far more than I normally do. From what I can tell, every restaurant in North America has 46 TVs, and all of them, except the ones in St. Louis, are tuned to football. At home, with more variables under my control, I resolve to do better.

Using my stringent Internet restrictions—following nobody on Twitter, never checking Facebook, no sports pages, no local news pages—my anti-football ramparts seem to hold. I start to think the boycott might succeed.

I go for a hike. As I walk, I listen online to a sermon I missed while on the road. It is titled “Blindspot Idols.” Assistant pastor Tim Mascara talks about our collective obsession with football in a way that makes Burrell’s Panthers-idolatry zinger sound like an ad campaign for the NFL. “How excited do we get, to say, cover our kids in the colors of our team?” Mascara asks. “Dare I say, baptize our kids in the membership of that team?”

The institution that invented fasting keeps screwing my fast up.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18

We have friends who are diehard Ohio State fans over for lunch. As we talk, their son watches an NFL game on an iPhone in the next room. He’s far enough away that I can’t hear anything distinct, so I let it pass as a violation.

They ask whether news of the Michigan-Michigan State game has penetrated my anti-football shield.

I say no.

Christian Petersen & Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

I’m guessing the game was yesterday, but I don’t know. This is the first I’ve heard of it. My friends hint it would be worth breaking my fast to look it up. I don’t. In coming weeks this game will make me feel like the only spouse at a class reunion who didn’t go to the school.

These friends, and others, laugh at my boycott idea (or maybe at me, I’m not always sure). They often follow-up with a one-word question—why? The tone suggests I am doing something unwise, like fasting from Marriott.

Part of the reason is a social experiment. Nothing in American life comes close to football’s ubiquity. But it’s not just an exercise in cultural criticism. I’m not going to lie: I don’t really like football anymore.

Growing up and as an adult, I was a normal fan. I watched on Sundays and went to a game every couple of years. When I became a sportswriter, I joined the Pro Football Writers Association and enjoyed writing about football because readers devoured the stories.

As a staff writer at Sporting News, I was assigned to write about concussions in 2007. I flew to Atlanta to “interview” Larry Morris. He had been a star at Georgia Tech and for the Chicago Bears and was 73 at the time. Only I didn’t interview him at all. I didn’t even talk to him. We played ping-pong, and he was quite good. He was otherwise incoherent. Dementia had robbed him of himself, and his doctor traced his years-long mental decline to head injuries suffered in football.

Diamond Images/Getty Images

When we finished playing ping-pong, I interviewed his wife, Kay. In two hours, Larry Morris, who died in 2012, said only two words that made sense. “Shucks,” after he missed a shot. And “Kay.” When he said her name, she exulted, pure, instantaneous happiness. She told me he never said her name anymore.

He never said her name because he no longer knew it.

They had been married for 50 years.

In 2012, I polled 125 former players about whether they were suffering from concussion-related issues. One told me he thought about killing himself, another told me he heard voices and two told me they got hit so hard the world changed colors.

I won’t watch a game that does that to the men who play it.

During Super Bowl broadcasts in 2012 and 2013, the NFL ran a commercial that purported to trace how the game had become safer.

The ad started with a man catching a kickoff in 1906. As he ran down the field, he and the other players moved forward in time, morphing from stars of one era to stars of the next era, with the ad culminating in Devin Hester waltzing into the end zone.

At least three players whose likenesses were used in the commercial sued the NFL over concussions.

One of the players was Hall of Fame running back Ollie Matson, who died in 2011. According to the Washington Times, researchers at Boston University told Matson’s family that he had the worst case of CTE—chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the neurodegenerative disease associated with repeated brain trauma—they had ever seen.

And yet the NFL used Matson’s image, after he was dead, to congratulate itself for making the game safer.

I refuse to watch a league that does that to its players.

I refuse to watch college football, for the same reasons I won’t watch the game in general, and also because this is the NCAA’s straight-faced position: It is OK for universities, beer vendors, T-shirt salesmen, coaches, parking lot attendants, TV stations, TV networks, radio stations, radio networks, bloggers, TV reporters, newspaper reporters, idiots who boycott random things, and every single other person in the entire world to make money off of college football games—except for the men who play them.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22

The two most annoying jobs to have as far as people wanting to talk to you about them are therapist and fantasy football writer, because everybody always wants to talk to you about their problems.

Sports writer is not far behind. I bring this up because my career made this fast marginally more difficult to maintain. For example, today a new client asks me to write an obituary for a football personality who is still very much alive (though admittedly very old).

News outlets often prepare obits in advance, though I’ve never done it. I think it is funny that this happened today because “got asked to write an obit about a guy who isn’t dead” is the weirdest fast violation in this whole experiment—so far, at least. I decline to write the obit about the football person who isn’t dead yet and instead talk my way into writing one about a baseball person who isn’t dead yet.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24

“What is going on with Detroit?” a good friend asks when I run into him on a sunny, warm day at a fall festival. This is the first of four times in the next 16 hours that someone will bring up football either to me or close enough to me for me to hear. At that exact moment, his daughter is wrapping mine in toilet paper as part of a mummy-making contest.

I tell him I don’t know and don’t want to know. Still, even from those six words, I learn enough to consider this a fast violation. After a lifetime of being a Lions fan, I know “What is going on with Detroit?” doesn’t mean, “Why have the Lions won so many games?” Because they are the Lions, I know the Lions season has been a disaster.

Later that day, while watching my kids ride bikes in front of our house, I say hello to my across-the-street neighbor, a Penn State grad. A man walks by wearing an Ohio State shirt. Penn State guy mentions to Ohio State guy the fact that Ohio State recently pummeled Penn State.

As we drink a Yuengling together after that, Penn State guy’s phone plays the SportsCenter music—he has it set to chime after every score in the Penn State game. He pulls his phone out and announces the score.

I am the Detroit Lions of football boycotters.

This boycott is starting to get to me, and not in a good way.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25

I got into the journalism business because I like to know stuff. The older I’ve gotten, I’ve found that I enjoy the way stories connect us as much as anything. I don’t just mean the stories that I write, I mean the stories of our lives.

This presents my lone struggle throughout this fast. I feel twinges of regret when I sense my friends are excited about something. I want to experience their excitement with them, even though I don’t share it.

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Which brings me to the one time I violate my own fast. It is an accident, and the fast has already been violated five times this week, but still. A friend tells me he went to the Georgia Tech game. I know how much he loves Georgia Tech, and I know how much more fun the trip would be with a win instead of a loss, so instinctively I blurt out, “Who won?”

I realize my mistake immediately, but he says Georgia Tech beat Florida State before I stop him. I tell him not to tell me anything else.

He says the ending was on par with Michigan-Michigan State.

I walk away from that conversation feeling something like guilt. I just told a friend not to tell me something that brought him joy. This fast is turning me into a jerk. I don’t want to break the fast any more than I already have. But I want to know what makes him smile like that because I want to smile with him.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 29, part one

I’m starting to crack under the isolation. For weeks, I have severely limited my online news consumption—in addition to no sports or local news web sites, now I don’t visit any news websites at all.

Some arrows pierce even that shield. I find out who won a Monday Night Football game by reading about the latest Star Wars trailer. Other things I learn and I’m not sure how—as if a series of fractions of words coalesced into a completed thought. I think I know that Steve Spurrier quit. FanDuel and DraftKings did something either good or bad, and whatever it was, they did it a lot. I still don’t know what happened in Michigan-Michigan State, but I think Michigan State won and that whatever happened involved Michigan’s punter, though what a punter could do that was so bad I can’t imagine, and as a Lions fan, I can imagine a lot.

I wanted to fast so I could hide from football and instead football is all I think about. Confirmation bias overwhelms me. I see pigskins and gridirons everywhere. I notice a commercial on the TV in the Bank of America lobby while I am filling out my deposit slip. In it, Jeff Gordon talks about how to conserve fuel, with a plug for Bank of America at the end. I rant in my head: I can’t even make a deposit without the NFL sinking its claws into me! And besides that, it’s a Bank of America commercial playing INSIDE BANK OF AMERICA!

I hear a second voice inside my head, which is a little weird.

HEY! the second voice says, JEFF GORDON DOES NOT PLAY IN THE NFL.

Oh, yeah, right. I guess this doesn’t break my fast.

I still want to know why Bank of America plays Bank of America commercials inside Bank of America.

OCTOBER 29, part two

Since the fast started, the TV has been on in my house only twice—once so I could watch a NASCAR race and once so my kids could watch It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

The Great Pumpkin airs for a second time today, and my girls want to watch it again. The TV is on for one second, and in that one second, I see Tom Brady. I’m fairly certain it was NBC and that a game was on, but I don’t know that for sure. I quickly change the channel, and soon I see Lucy pulling the football back from Charlie Brown.

How long, O Lord, how long?

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 31, part one

I take my daughters to the park. Two other dads, one a friend, one a man I’ve never met, show up. The man I don’t know, who seems like a good dude, talks about his weekend.

“The Panthers are off, the Bills are off,” he says, introducing two facts to me that I didn’t already know, “what am I supposed to do tomorrow?”

Then he says, “My fantasy football team sucks because …” and I feel myself tumble headlong into a cliché wormhole.

He isn’t talking to me, so asking him to shut up in deference to my fast would be rude. Instead I do something I previously thought was biologically impossible: I shut off my ears. He keeps talking, but I will myself not to hear another word. I’ll go to my grave not knowing why his fantasy football team sucks.

OCTOBER 31, part two

My girls put on their Halloween costumes (Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker) and I lead them around our neighborhood for trick-or-treating. I see a man taking his kids from house to house. He tells me he is a Bears fan and he is wearing the scariest costume he could think of … a Jay Cutler Bears jersey.

We walk to the end of a cul-de-sac. A man and woman sit on lawn chairs at the end of a driveway. In the driveway is a pickup truck. In the bed of the pickup truck is a flat-screen TV. On the TV is a football game, which the man and woman can’t see because the TV is behind them.

At the next house, a man wearing a Mets hat is sitting in his driveway. Because my football blackout has become a news blackout, I don’t know the status of the World Series or even if there’s a game tonight. Guessing there is because it’s Saturday, I ask the man if he is going to watch it. He says he hopes to talk his neighbors into turning it on the TV in the back of the pickup, which he can see and they cannot. Otherwise, he’ll go inside and watch.

We trick-or-treat more. Less than a block later, we come to another house with a TV in the driveway. This time, men sit in chairs around the TV. The woman handing out candy says the TV is there so the “boys can watch the football game.”

I try to decide if the two TVs, or being asked to write an obit on a football person who isn’t dead, constitutes the weirder violation of my football fast. Whatever the answer, I remember the good old days, when you trick-or-treated and lamented the licorice and ignored the curfew your parents set and nobody watched football in the driveway as you did so.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4

Initially, my goal for this fast was ambitious: I wanted the Super Bowl to come and go without me finding out who played in it. I’ve had more impossible ideas, I’m sure, but I can’t think of any.

First I downgraded that to not finding out who plays whom and where or who wins through Nov. 8. I did not make it through the first week. Then I downgraded my fast to simply making it through one week without learning football news. I never made that either. With the end near, I abandon all ambition and simply want to make it a few days without my fast being broken.

All along, I have resisted going to (for example) the mountains, climbing into a tent and never coming out as a way to make my fast successful. That feels like cheating. But I inch close to that idea. I devise a plan and call it “the nuclear option.” I will read and send emails, because I have to, but that’s it; otherwise, no Internet. I will, for the first time, pre-emptively tell people not to talk to me about football.

I think I have a workable plan.

Then I leave the house.

I interview a NASCAR driver in his trophy room, where he has a San Francisco 49ers helmet displayed. Desperate to keep my fast alive, I don’t count it as a breach because we don’t talk about it. It’s the equivalent of a shirt at the airport, I tell myself, and not proof of my thesis that there’s nowhere I can go where football can’t find me.

A few hours later, I open an email from an editor, and it contains information about two football stories other people have written. I stop reading when I see the word football, so I’m not counting that either.

Then I meet a friend for lunch, and there are TVs all over the place. It’s not Buffalo Wild Wings on a Sunday, but it’s bad. I try unsuccessfully to avert my eyes. I see a fragment of a blurb that says Ron or Rod or Tom or Todd, last name Chud-something, was either hired or fired by Indianapolis.

In 3.5 hours of the so-called nuclear option, football blows up my fast three times.

George Gojkovich/Getty Images

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 5

Nuclear option take two. I write all day. I leave the house only to have coffee with a friend and to hike, and this time I don’t listen to an anti-football sermon.

SUCCESS! A full day!

But I’ve had intermittent football-free days like this before.

I need, I want, two in a row.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6

By late afternoon, I look to be well on my way to my second straight football free day. I just have to get through a small-group Bible study at my house. Church has been a problem. Every time I set foot in the place (and even when I don’t) somebody violates my fast. While most of the references lament football’s role in society, it still makes me wonder if Christianity is the official religion of football.

I know the people in my small group well, and most are not football fans. One of the men hasn’t watched the Super Bowl in 20 years. Some of the rest would not know Cam Newton if he showed up at the meeting wearing his jersey.

The two biggest football fans in the group will not be here because, no lie, they are on vacation at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I consider their absence the first fast-related break I catch all month.

And then I answer the door, and the first person I see in 32 hours violates my fast. It’s a teenage boy. He hands me a McDonald’s cup and asks me to throw it away. I look down at it, and it is a commemorative Super Bowl cup, celebrating the 50th Super Bowl even though it’s three months from happening and nobody has the slightest idea who will play in it.

Then the wife/mother of the Hall of Fame vacationers mentions the Bengals and the Panthers having home games this week. When she also mentions the election that was held in Charlotte earlier in the week, I laugh. I early-voted then forgot the election even happened. I had no idea who won. My football fast has kept me from important news, but not from football news.

Now that I think about it, I wore a Detroit Tigers hat to the polling place and an election official, also a Detroit expat, wanted to talk about their disaster of a season.

I wanted to hug him for loving baseball.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 8

Football roams around, seeking whom it may devour, and for more than a month, that has been me. I’m defeated. I give up. I try to make it through one last Sunday without anything football-related happening, like a team trying hard while getting blown out, just to put a period at the end of what has started to feel like a sentence, not the kind you write, but the kind that keeps you behind bars.

In trying to deflect a football conversation, I tell a friend about the boycott. I tell him I know something crazy happened in Michigan-Michigan State but I don’t know what and please don’t tell me. I feel like I’ve had to do that a million times. I tell him I don’t know anything about the NFL, either, and I don’t want to know anything.

“So you don’t know who the undefeated teams are?” he asks, apparently not understanding the point when I said I don’t know anything and I don’t want to know anything.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I note that he said teams. Plural. I had been pretty sure there was one. Last week, while watching the NASCAR race online in preparation for an interview with the 49ers-helmet-having driver, I didn’t close my laptop fast enough before the commercials started. The announcer said something about a battle of undefeated teams, and there was an image of Peyton Manning. That strongly suggested the Broncos were undefeated as late as the day after Halloween.

I go to the grocery store. Nearly every clerk and every bagger is wearing a Carolina Panthers T-shirt or jersey. This is at Trader Joe’s, in the land of tree-huggers and hippies, not football fanatics. I’ve been here many Sundays, and I’ve never seen so much Panthers gear.

I overhear a bagger say, “Every time I go uptown I can feel the energy,” and I deduce she is talking about the Panthers because only football causes fans to think the air in a city has undergone a chemical and/or physical change so profound that they can feel it.

Her comment makes me think there is something going on with the Panthers—I remember the 4-0 headline … could they still be undefeated, right under my nose, and I don’t know it?—and at the exact second that thought crosses my mind, another clerk clangs a bell five times.

“ALL RIGHT! THIRTY MINUTES UNTIL GAME TIME! GO PANTHERS!” she shouts.

This confirms to me that the Panthers are undefeated. A grocery store clerk is not going to ring a bell for a team otherwise. Or maybe ringing the bell as a countdown to kickoff became a thing while I was fasting and I missed it. It could be true—Charlotte has a new mayor and I had no idea. Maybe she issued a mandate.

I have been looking for something to tell me it is time to end the boycott. I decide the bell marks the end of the fast, and the final violation. The bell tolls for me.

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

EPILOGUE

When the fast ends, I do not try to find what I missed, football or not. The escape from the incessant blather is so freeing I try to maintain the mental purity. I continue to follow zero people on Twitter. I will read the news now, just nothing about football. I have become skilled at not seeing headlines I don’t want to see, so I hope to maintain my obliviousness.

Football information finds me soon enough anyway. I check Facebook for the first time in weeks, and the very first post I see reports the Panthers are, indeed, 8-0.

I never check to see what ridiculousness has befallen the Lions. It’s more fun to imagine it anyway. I don’t look up that Michigan-Michigan State play, either.

The sun has still come up every day, even for Michigan’s punter.

About the Author

Matt Crossman is the author of more than 40 cover stories in national magazines. This is his fourth piece for SBNation.com/Longform. Read more of his work at mattcrossman.com and follow him on Twitter at @MattCrossman_.

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