It’s a visceral feeling. We all go through it. Team A can’t convert on the third down, but the score error warning flag pops up again and you get a sense of immersion (that is, unless you’re a fan of Team A. I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never seen Justin Fields receive a rough call from a passerby). The camera turns to the umpire, because the umpire is always the one tossing this particular flag. He is walking with justifiable confidence to whatever location he considers the stage to turn on his mic, a specified bravery that should not be part of his journey knowing that he’s about to turn the tables. Almost always, there was a skeptical defender behind him, with arms outstretched, confusion and boredom palpable from his helmet. The umpire declares a rough punishment to the passer, and he is drowned out by raucous cheers or angry boos, depending on the context. Everyone knows this 15 yards distance is a game changer, deflation from defense almost always means the score is coming (I have no proof of this, it just feel in that way).
However, the dance is not over yet. When you hear the call and you know for sure it will replay, you’re sure it will expose another, if not downright ridiculous, call. One quarterback tapped his head as if he were a high-achieving preschooler. Or push lightly as if it were the world’s worst moshpit. Maybe just solved. Something like this:
And then Twitter exploded. “This is not football!” “Wingers are not statues!” You’ll never be too far from someone mentioning female anatomy, because Twitter is so chic (and as if female anatomy isn’t really the most resilient human biology. Betty White is a genius. ).
Most people are angry that those calls have become so important. The first shot and 15 yards in an era where defensive play was impossible was very serious. And it seems to be the curse on the entire composition of the game.
Here’s the thing, though. All those old brothers screaming on Twitter about how ruined the match was and then some jokes about Kylian Mbappe or Neymar, they were almost certainly the ones begging Justin Herbert or Patrick Mahomes throws four TDs so they can win their fantasy match that week or to cash in a parlay on the same game. How do they think that happened?
What NFL fans don’t want to admit is that this is the game they want, and they’ve told the NFL that each season when new viewership records are set, more people bet on the game every day and fantasy football “experts” get the top spot on every major website and full of TV shows. They live to complain about these calls while immersing themselves in the game it has created.
It makes no difference to line noise, as the receiver is allowed to run wherever they want without getting in the way or requiring aura to make every catch. They can even run screens for each other but how often do you find PI annoying? It’s the ordered game.
We’ve all experienced the pantomime raising our hands to the sky and lamenting the times when the game looked like what we thought it was as children. Chances are if we go back and actually watch Chuck Long or Boomer Esiason crawl and hunch their team up and down some concrete astronomical pitch for a 21-10 win over the Colts, we’ll have a chart. It’s like the first time we tried to digest brussels sprouts. But let’s face the truth. This is the NFL game that audiences have unequivocally decided it’s better for. After all, you’ve got a stupid fantasy trophy to win.