What Offseason?

March found me under clear blue skies with my shoeless feet buried in green grass, celebrating spring training by attending a Royals-Diamondbacks game. As Reggie Sanders broke a meaningless Brandon Webb no-hitter and smugly ran to first base, I thought how much better baseball would be if catchers were allowed to tackle base runners.

That's where my head is. How many more ways can I incorporate football into my life? From the last tick of the Super Bowl clock to next season's first game, it seems we never stop talking about football. Draft talk starts in November as we start guessing where teams will fall in the draft order. Before the draft comes the combine. After the draft we have training camp. In between we'll have a plethora of free agency mini-dramas and soap operas to sooth our cravings for all things NFL.

It used to be that "Football Widows" everywhere looked forward to the weeks following the Super Bowl. They get to finally slip lengthy "honey-do" chore lists into the hands of their significant other. Hands that no longer have a death grip on the remote control or a beer. It's not an easy transition after football fans spend months fanatically living out their weekend lives inside bars and living rooms, eyes glued to as many football games as possible.

Tailgate parties are exchanged for youth sports and family get-togethers. Maybe there's a little spiritual renewal at the local church after all those fourth-and-one prayers. Monday night football becomes twilight baseball. My mother can stop hiding while her husband expresses his opinion towards a televised football game with loud expletives and shattering cries of joy. Barbecues return as the main attraction instead of playing sidekick to the football.

While I do believe "Football Widows" are still winning the springtime war, the Internet and cable television ensure that they cannot completely escape the NFL experience. Even still, I believe that the NFL schedule is sweetly coordinated to end a few weeks before Valentines Day as a social consideration for the health of marriages everywhere.

Few other sports in our culture have the radical, all-consuming feeling of an NFL season. With pre-game shows starting on Sunday and post-game ending sometime on Tuesday, one cannot escape the flood of pigskin paparazzi.

March Madness compares pretty favorably to the NFL, but college basketball fans can generally be coaxed into interacting with their families despite it. As long as they catch the last four minutes of the game, or the late edition of Sportscenter, they're fine.

Baseball, NASCAR, hockey and professional bowling are repetitive enough to lose out on some of the must-see classification we bestow upon football. How do you muster the necessary hatred to make a rival game special if you have to muster it 20 times a year?

This year I've been so hard up for football that I sat down to watch the combine. The combine is a series of tests for selected college invitees, like the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump and the bench press. Along with a host of additional drills, those tests place the athletes under a microscope of athletic and mental prowess.

And boy is it a thorough inspection. I really appreciate the world of constant sports reporting. I love that they televised portions of the combine drills. I was especially fascinated with the 40-yard dash. Some of the players wore skimpy white shorts in order to make themselves as aerodynamic as possible, making the whole surreal run look like a scene from "Baywatch."

Draft Day coverage has gotten progressively more entertaining with each passing year. With the presumed top draftees sequestered in a private room, it now has the Hollywood feel of "American Idol" merged with "The Price is Right." As each draft pick is called to the stage, the audience roars its' opinion and family members begin the someone-is-getting-a-new-house dance. This is the day we dare to dream of a Super Bowl-sealing deal or steal of the century. The day's results become the trigger for bandwagon jumping and armchair quarterbacking.

It is also the day we're bombarded with every fact and piece of minutiae they can dig up about draftees. Besides their sports and college careers, we'll learn who their families are, where they're from and what kind of cereal they ate for breakfast. Some stories will be so poignant they'll pull at our heartstrings and we'll instantly fall into adoration. Prospective rookies will be declared the next great superstar and savior of the team until they crash in training camp, never even making the final roster.

Ultimately, all these storylines whet my appetite for the start of the season. I have every intention of making the trek to Wisconsin to gawk with bright eyes and childish glee at my favorite Chiefs as they sweat in training camp. I can think of few things more wholesome than a painful exhibition of skill, violence and endurance. Placing that exhibition inside the sleepy little town of River Falls on a sweet college campus only adds to the experience.

I will strive to enjoy every moment of my trip. The youth of my children provides me with a few more free summers. Although not demanded, it would be nice if my following summers were spent strapping on flag football belts and milling around on little league fields. This sentiment is not overly appreciated by Megan Hoyle of Chandler, Arizona. Besides holding the dubious honor of being my friend, Hoyle is a dedicated wife and a mother of three.

As I gushed over the possibility of someday filling the off-season by joining a caravan of Americana-oozing soccer moms, I dared to ask what Hoyle was doing during "her" off-season.

"Karen, between softball games, baseball games and Mark's basketball, I think I've made the same seven-layer bean dip every weekend for the past seven months," she said. "Let me know when my off-season starts."

I bet she'd be having a lot more fun if her 13-year old daughter playing third base was allowed to blitz the batter.

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