From February 1 to September 3, 2009, my leisure time seemed to lack something meaningful in it. I needed something other than beer to quench my thirst for entertainment. Under Armour and "That's G" commercials whetted my appetite, but were not sufficient.
Every time I turned on the TV or went to the bar, it felt like a piece of me was missing. Certain dates held a purpose, but were essentially teasers - the pro bowl, NFL draft, OTAs, mini-camps, training camps, preseason - all left me starving for more.
None have the same intensity, drama and action as a real football game. They are all simply appetizers to the weekly entrees of the regular season.
Each of these appetizers contains pieces that affect the rest of the meal. Rookies, injuries, retirements (permanent or Favre-like) and free agency all occur prior to a single meaningful snap taking place.
Enter last Thursday, 7 p.m. Eastern. I could smell the main course being brought to my table from the kitchen. The scintillating aroma was unmistakable - fresh blades of grass, new tailgating grills warming up sausages and the desire of each player on the field looking to make a statement. The crack of another cold beer was the garnish to my plate.
I didn't (and still don't) care who played, how they played, or which team won. I was watching a football game that counted directly towards each team's chances to make the postseason. My first entree was served.
The ensuing weekend was filled with more games, action and excitement. Legarrette Blount even provided some early drama with his first-round sucker punch to Byron Hout. Miami and Florida State then provided the piece de resistance in a game that came down to fourth and goal as time expired. I was stuffed.
Thursday's Titans vs. Steelers matchup will prepare my professional palette in a smash-mouth way. In what should have been a rematch of the AFC championship game, both teams play a run-first, grind it out type of football. Like a college student who just ordered pizza, my mouth is watering for gametime to arrive.
Some may wonder how I stay hungry for more after six months of a seemingly repetitive diet. I tell them to look closer, as each week offers a flavor that has never been created before. Identical ingredients will never make up another game.
Whether it's a starting quarterback or a punter, opponents will not see the exact same personnel on the field in every game of the season. The gameplans, weather and fans will change, resulting in a different atmosphere no matter what site hosts. All of these components create a new experience for me as a fan.
This creates new realms of possibility for this season - fantasy drafts, survival pools, pick 'em leagues - all start from new and anyone can win. They give us the chance to be chefs mastering our own kitchens. We can be champions, even if our favorite team can't (sorry Lions fans).
Football takes those boring weekends and transforms them from family picnics to man time. Instead of eating overcooked hamburgers and bland potato salad, I'm now scarfing down wings and tackles while drinking a beer. My friends are rooting for each of their teams as loudly as I root for mine, and nobody cares that the televisions won't talk back.
This can go on from Friday through Monday night, with nobody correctly predicting how every game is going to end. Once we sample the last dish of the week, we drag ourselves into work, only to imagine what next weekend has to offer.
Salivating every weekday, our discussions involve our desire to indulge again. We want that excitement, drama and suspense back in our lives as soon as possible. These feelings make week interesting.
Football games make the weekends meaningful again. It is those feelings of controlling our fantasy squads, but relying on others to control our favorite teams' destinies, that keep us engaged.
With all of this, I have a note for all those football players across America. To NCAA, NFL, even high school and Pop Warner athletes (because you soon will entertain me):
Thank you and welcome back.