It was exactly a year ago on this date (though technically, it was yesterday) that I realized I didn’t simply delight in watching televised football–I actually liked the sport.
Below is the introductory paragraph from my master’s thesis:
When The Heart Plummets
It was October 29, 2006, a Sunday afternoon, and I was watching the last ten minutes of the Atlanta Falcons vs. the Cincinnati Bengals game televised on Fox. The Falcons were ahead 29-20, but at the three-minute and forty-three second mark on the game clock, Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry caught a pass, ran to the end zone, and made a touchdown. Atlanta shrank to a two-point lead over Cincinnati. In the moment that Henry caught the football and was en route to the end zone (Falcons’ defensive player Chris Crocker was unable to tackle him), I discovered the sure-fire way to know that you are a football fan and not just an admirer of the aesthetics of the televised game: you shout at the TV in agitation. When Henry caught the pass (filmed in a long shot and standing in the middle-foreground of the screen), and I saw that the end zone was likely no more than twenty yards away, I leapt out of the chair and I screamed, “nooo!” three times. Although the play was televised in real time, even though Henry only ran up to twenty yards (towards screen left), I experienced such an elongated moment of horror because I knew that there was nothing any of the Falcons could do to stop him from reaching the end zone. I felt my heart drop to the bottom of my stomach as the commentators explained why and how the play happened.
Had a sports sociologist observed me while I watched the last ten minutes of the game, he might have noted the precise moment when I transformed from being a passive viewer into an active viewer: upon realizing that the Falcons’ lead was going to be threatened, I was no longer able to sit back and simply watch the males wearing spandex, helmets, and large shoulder pads crash into each other for the possession of an olive-shaped ball. Sociological studies done on the experience of watching televised football games indicate that expressing one’s euphoria and frustration verbally and physically tends to happen when the viewer is a fan (or non-fan) of the team that is winning/losing.1 Becoming emotionally agitated would logically happen more easily to someone who is already a fan of the team, because as a fan, one knows the history of the team—a victory or a defeat will impact more than just that particular game. Sports sociologists also argue that one of the reasons why football fans become so engrossed in watching the games and then grow incredibly upset and happy when their teams lose or win is because they identify with the teams, but it is not the same as what happens in a movie. Narratively, ideologically, and audiovisually speaking, the motivation to shout “what are you doing?! Catch the stupid ball!” is not necessarily comparable to what compels one to scream “don’t go in there!” Anybody who watches a film where the camerawork and narrative invite identification will vicariously live through that character but not as an involved participant. Only a fan of a particular team would express his joy or anger in such a way—pacing, shouting, putting hands on head—that a sports sociologist could make the case that watching football possesses cathartic qualities.
As an audiovisual text, though, televised football can provoke responses in viewers who do not consider themselves fans. My reaction to Chris Henry’s touchdown made me realize that I was watching the game as more than a pair of eyes and a brain processing the audiovisual information that appeared on the television screen. I understood that the outcome of the game had become more than a statistic to be stored in NFL or Falcons history. It had the potential to uplift or to depress my mood for the rest of the day—and before that ten-minute period of time I would not have identified myself as a fan of the Falcons or even a fan of football as a sport. Prior to that Falcons vs. Bengals game, my interest in watching football had been solely in the televised aesthetic and the violent spectacle sanctioned by the narrative of the game.
Part of the reason why I jumped out of my chair and vocalized a loud “no” three times in distress was due to how the play was captured by the television camera(s). After the touchdown was made and was given an instant replay treatment, the camera cut to a high-angle close-up of Crocker’s annoyed, frustrated, and disappointed face as he paced around the Falcons’ bench, while being comforted by a couple of the coaches. I continued to shout at the television screen during the final two minutes of the game. “Come on, Falcons!” I pleaded, and since the game was live, I could hope that somehow the players would hear me. The other explanation for my reaction to that play was also due to my understanding of what the Bengals touchdown would do to the Falcons’ lead. The fourth quarter might have been drawing to a close, but anything could have happened in the last two minutes of that football game. As a viewer, football had become more than a game, more than a way to spend my Sunday afternoon, more than something to watch on TV. Football had become a story fueled by spectacle, surprise, and suspense.
1. Wenner, Lawrence and Walter Gantz. “The Audience Experience with Sports on Television.”
Media, Sports, & Society. Lawrence A. Wenner, Ed. (Newbury Park: Sage Publications). 241-269.
Oh yes, and for all you baseball fans out there, the Boston Red Sox snagged the World Series win away from the Colorado Rockies. Click here for more details.