It’s a well-worn cliché among sportswriters, sports talk radio hosts, and TV talking heads: some period of the year is declared “the best time of the year.” Usually, the basis for this declaration lies in the fact that two, or three, or even (ever so briefly) four of the major sports are in season and playing at the same time. During such times, the true sports fan finds himself blissfully drowning under a tidal wave of games, highlights, and breathless discussion. The choices are so great, the fan hardly knows what to watch, what to listen to, what to bet on, what to do with herself. And that’s supposed to be great.
Here’s a contrary opinion: now that we’ve reached the relative sports doldrums of late January and early February, we’ve actually entered truly great time of year. It may not be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it certainly is “a wonderful time of the year,” for one very important reason: now is when sports fans get to walk away from the games and do something else.
With the NFL’s conference championships in the rear view mirror, the calendar has reached a span of roughly three weeks when almost nothing is going on. Think about it:
We’re in the midst of two solid weeks without any real, meaningful football. (If you wish to counter that argument with the Pro Bowl…you’re ill. Take yourself to the nearest emergency room immediately, and let’s all hope you have insurance.) Then comes the Super Bowl, which many have turned into a nine-hour orgy, whereas the more sensible among us watch the game as a quick hit: don’t turn on the TV until kickoff, change the channel (or run away) for a half an hour during the godawful halftime show, then stick with the second half for as long as the game remains competitive. And don’t watch a second more than necessary. In that best practices scenario, or even with the orgy, we’re talking about no more than three and a half legitimate hours of must-see viewing. And then football is all gone until August, at best.
…these days from now until Spring Training begins are a sports vacuum–and that’s great, because now is the time when we sports fans get to take a break from our favorite games.
Three weeks, one afternoon of meaningful viewing. What else are you going to look at?
Basketball? True, there will be some compelling NBA games during this time, but mostly we’re talking about the Association’s dog days. Even the players are tired of the season by this point; a Tuesday night Nets-Bucks match-up will try the patience of even the hardest hoops diehard. And let’s not give college basketball any dignity here. The very kids who play the game care so little about it they can’t be bothered for more than one season; why should any serious sports fan care more than them?
Hockey? Even for those of us who grew up hockey fanatics, the sport has lost a lot of its luster. When the biggest story of the season comes from a bunch of players giving each other the mumps, that’s a rough ticket to sell.
Tennis? Yes, the Australian Open is going on right now, but even though the Aussie has provided some wildly entertaining matches in the past–Djokovic vs. Nadal in the 2012 final was brilliant, stay up all night stuff–overall the tournament is barely a blip on the average sports fan’s schedule. And, again, it’s here and gone in a flash.
How about any of the plethora of winter sports that will show up on the television during this fallow time? No doubt these sports are great fun if you’re participating, but if you’re sitting on the couch watching? Forget about it. (Again, no dignity for made-for-TV, butthead sports like the X Games.)
No, the days from now until Spring Training begins are a sports vacuum–and that’s great, because now is when we sports fans get to take a break from our favorite games. Turn off the TV, step away, and do something else with your time. Not only will you get things done, but you’ll also enjoy the benefits of time away. These empty days can serve as a palate cleanser that will whet your appetite for your favorite games; you’ll appreciate them that much more when they finally come back.
So don’t lose heart when the gun goes off and the Super Bowl ends. You have a great opportunity before you; take advantage of it. Spend a few days, or a few weeks, away from the couch and the remote. Come back when the next pitch is thrown, when the next playoff series begins, when the next game kicks off. You’ll find that, as the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder–and the games that much better.