By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette
---- — Truth be told, I have an addiction and it’s raging out of control.
It’s not a bad habit in the true sense like drugs or alcohol, but one that leaves me behind closed doors, sometimes isolated and severed from the rest of the world.
Football! Yes, the good, old gridiron where helmets clash and bodies mangle as thousands of boisterous fans turn into fanatics.
My cheering is done in the comfort of my home with my chips and salsa by my side and a beer or two as the game proceeds. To say I become comatose during these rapture sessions is putting it mildly.
Let’s see, Sunday afternoons the New England Patriots usually see action. And if they don’t, I try to follow the other contenders. Two games later, I usually get a quick bite for supper before a Sunday night game that takes me into the midnight hour, provided no overtime. Then it’s the wee hours of morning before I end my bug-eyed marathon.
Thank goodness for Monday because that evening ushers in another game. And now with Thursday night games entering the picture, that gives me nearly a full week in the NFL.
Not enough, especially if you also follow the college ranks. I’ve been known to overdose on Saturday football – day and night --- and that’s not the full story, either.
Ever hear of Fantasy Football? That’s where you enter a mock draft to pick players and teams for your own shot at the Super Bowl. Matter of fact, people pay more credence to the world of fantasy than they do to actual life.
It’s a chance to turn a modest entry fee into some serious cash, but it’s more fun than frenetic. There’s even a Hall of Fame and news bulletins to guide the way.
Just when I thought I’ve had enough, along comes more. My 6-year-old grandson informed me he’s now playing flag football and wondered if I could attend his games an hour away.
“Sure,” I told him. “So long as it doesn’t interfere with the Patriots, Jets, Giants, Bills, and the rest of the NFL.”
“Don’t worry, Papa,” he said. “Our games are played on Sunday mornings, usually at 9.”
There goes church, too. The only secure moment when I felt a hiatus from football was no longer absolute. For me or his family. They used to be a spiritual lot and now their praying is done in the stands on a brisk fall day, covered with afghans and layers of clothing.
What time is it today? Game time!
People who know me won’t tap my phone or come cold calling. They’ve seen me surge out the church door after Mass so I could make the 1 p.m. kickoff. Should it be the late-afternoon game, a trip to the supermarket usually precedes the kickoff.
How did I become such a maniac? I don’t know, except that it may have been contagious. I once attended a wedding in which the bride and groom were exchanging vows during a civil ceremony.
Written into their marital contract by the husband was a football clause calling for asylum during a Patriots game. Instead of a tux, the guy was wearing a Tom Brady shirt and a nifty set of matching sweat pants as if the next order of business was a clash outdoors.
The bride was just as hip, wearing a Patriots cheerleading outfit and lending her own persona to the ritual. There are people like this in the world to whom football is the game of life and the only thing that might interfere is a tsunami.
Sure, we get our invites on a Sunday. My six grandchildren have birthdays. My three children have anniversaries. I have friends all over the place with their weddings and special occasions. Nothing that a wide-screen TV won’t cure.
The conversation from outside the football room remains irrelevant.
“Dinner’s on the table. Come and get it, folks.”
“Not now. The Patriots are on the 5 yard line with a first-and-goal.”
“How long will that take?”
“Well, each team has two timeouts left so it might take 10 minutes. I’ve seen the last three minutes of a football game take up to a half hour with all those commercials.”
“Look, we’re eating at the table now and if you cannot join us, think of an alternative.”
Absolutely right. That’s why they invented TV tables — for those who have trouble leaving a game.
I do not know what the remedy is for all this football mania, except to say that we must stay firm as arduous fans. It’s not a game for weaklings.
Unless you can sit for hours eating peanuts and sipping a brew while growing hoarse with anxiety, you’re not a diehard.
Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from the Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.