John Jannuzzi

If Your Team Isn't Playing, Do You Have to Watch on Sunday?

John Jannuzzi
If Your Team Isn't Playing, Do You Have to Watch on Sunday?

By Lang Whitaker
Illustration by Levi Hastings

Listen, no matter what anyone tells you, you are not required to watch the game on Sunday. No matter how popular the NFL remains, no matter how much power Jerry Jones amasses, they can’t tell us what to do. At least not yet, I don’t think so.

I get the pressure to watch. It’s a big deal, the kind of culturally unifying event that is more and more rare in our digitally-splintered world. No matter how the game itself plays out, there will almost surely be a talking point or meme generated that you won’t want to miss. Like that time a few years ago in New Orleans when the power went out and everyone tweeted Batman/Bane jokes. Which was fun for like an hour. Or maybe you’re just a fan of football who wants to watch the last game that’s going to be played until the fall.

There are also folks who are basically required to watch this game. For the New England fans, this could be their sixth win since 2001, an unprecedented run of sustained success in an era when the NFL seems built expressly to work against sustained runs of success. And certainly, fans of Philadelphia will watch in droves; their last NFL championship was so long ago (1960) that the title game wasn’t even called the name we’re not legally allowed to say.

Is it an important game? It’s ostensibly a matchup between the two best teams in the league, or at least the two teams that got hot at the right times and were able to advance to the league’s title game. Having two streaking teams would seem to nearly guarantee an evenly-matched battle for the NFL championship. While several recent games have been close, such as New England’s come-from-behind win in overtime a year ago, there are also occasional stinkers like Seattle’s 43-8 blowout in 2014. So at least from a competitive standpoint, there is no guarantee the game will be compelling.

To be honest, I don't really want to watch this weekend. But that’s part of the bargain we make with sports: We dedicate our time to the games and hope something memorable happens that affects our life in a positive way. Last year I went all the way to Houston, Texas, and sat there in the stands and watched in person as Atlanta choked away a 28-3 lead and lost to Tom Brady and his comrades. Was it worth the time and effort and stress to be there in person and see my team lose in such a spectacular fashion? In retrospect, it was impressive to attend an event with such a massive scale, but it was also emotionally harrowing and has left lasting scars on my sporting heart.

I suppose most NFL fans are kind of agnostic when it comes down to it. Unless you are an undeniable fan of New England or Philly, your favorite professional football team is not going to be playing, so who cares who ends up winning? (As a fan of the team that was eliminated by the Pats last year and their opposition a few weeks ago, I’m wondering if there is there any way both teams can lose?)

Sporting angles aside, there are still plenty of reasons to watch it go down — seeing all the new commercials or catching Justin Timberlake’s halftime show — but I’m not so sure they’re the right reasons.

All of which is to say, I am definitely watching. I don’t have to, but I guess I kind of have to.

Let's talk about it on the Monday after.