A Spark

Patrick Smith

Inspired by David Eagleman.

After twenty-six weeks of games, the NFL finally closed last Sunday on the final whistle of Super Bowl XLVII. Compared to other professional sports leagues of its kind, this window is relatively short. A full season of Major League Baseball lasts for seven months. For the NBA, it's eight. MLS officially opened last year in March and finished in December. Even in its shortened season, the NHL plays for only five months.

It's even shorter when you analyze how frequently the teams play. A MLB team usually plays five days out of seven. NBA teams plays four. NHL has games three times a week. MLS have two. Only NFL teams play each other once.

And it gets even worse when you get towards the actual game time itself. Baseball announcers may find themselves in the booth for two to three hours at a time. Basketball courts and hockey rinks are televised for two and a half hours, on average. Soccer ends pretty quickly, within a two range including stoppage time.

You may believe that the time length of NFL games might be a blessing, cruising in at an average of three hours of television. But in that span of time, you spend thirty minutes listening to clueless announcers rambling on at halftime shows. You spent one hundred and ten minutes glossing over advertisements and commercials. Fifteen minutes yawning after unnecessary timeouts. Eighteen minutes in the bathrooms following touchbacks and fair catches. Twenty minutes of looking at close-up cheerleaders. Twenty-five minutes being frustrating at a challenge. Thirty minutes complaining to the referees on screen. Forty minutes looking at the people in the stands. Forty-five minutes cursing at the screen. In total, you probably spend barely over one hour in actually watching football, and two hours actually waiting for football to happen.

Why even bother playing? A player spends six days out of seven in preparation. A day usually consists of spending two hours and ten minutes in team meetings with coaches. Walk-throughs and gameplanning lasts for an hour. Practice itself lasts for two and a half hours. Then comes interviews and media, which last for another hour. Finally, the day ends with two hours rehabbing, lifting or film study.

For all that preparation a player usually only plays for thirty our forty snaps a game (and a lot more less if you were mainly for special teams). A snap itself will only average out for five or six seconds real time. In the sense that even if you are a regular player your career will only last you three and a half seasons on average. For a sport you spend seventeen hours out of twenty-four, six days out of seven and eight months out of twelve simply to prepare - only to probably not last for even a tenth of your lifespan.

Fans face a similar scenario. Celebrations are short lived. A first down carries on for three seconds. Big gains on offense are quickly replaced by another play after thirteen seconds of screentime. An interception lasts for ten seconds before the TV cuts to commercial. A touchdown and replay goes for twenty. A sack or tackle for a loss clocks in at five seconds. You spend eighteen hours calculating odds at vegas, four months scouting players that won't be going on your team, four years of sleepless nights believing that your team might win the big one. Victories are relevant for seven days and at most, seven months, while losses gravitate the heart for as long as seven years.

In the four minutes you have spent reading this article, you've asked yourself weather or not to continue this toil. And to that question I can only tell you this: within the five seconds of every football play lies an opportunity to put forth all the effort and time one spends in preparation into work, a spark admist the period of inactivity. And as we watch the beauty of a fifty-yard pass being caught by a wide receiver after a loss of ten and we briefly feel like we're at the top of the world, you wonder if you're glad that football is split into small, indistinguishable pieces, where moments do not endure and experiences are made by jumping from one outstretched rock to another, where a team in the jaws of defeat can suddenly win and a player that is doomed for retirement can become resurgent, where the nature of a spark sometimes builds up and bursts into a roaring thunderstorm, you wonder, in the end, if it's all worth cheering for.

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