It comes back every year like flu season, or an incredibly boring NBA finals or “A Christmas Story” 18 zillion times on TNT. (I’m starting to wish Ralphie would just go ahead and shoot his stupid eye out.) Sports fans know what I mean – when the end of the World Series hits, it means the start of a slide into late-autumn sports hell.
The NFL is in week 11 – but the season really has yet to get interesting. The biggest story in the league so far this season was “Will Kansas City go undefeated this season?” Then they went ahead and lost to Cincinnati yesterday. With that annually uninteresting storyline now out of the way, the NFL will not actually get really compelling until it gets to be the beginning of December and the playoff races start heating up. Thus, the fans are left with nothing to do until there are only 20 shopping days left before Christmas.
The NBA season has started. Did you notice? Neither did I. The NBA season, much like a typical NBA game, is only interesting at the end. The NHL season is also into full swing. Quick, what’s the Minnesota Wild’s record? No fan, at this point of the season, is completely sure. This stat doesn’t really get important until it comes time to make a run at a playoff spot. (Unless you’re a Washington Capitals fan and there’s some chance your team won’t make it to 10 wins all season.) In both sports, 16 teams make the playoffs. Because home-court advantage isn’t particularly pronounced in pro basketball or
hockey, and the playoff teams are generally pretty evenly matched, postseason seedings don’t matter a whole lot. So, for all but about eight teams, the season is either a tune-up for the playoffs or a competition to get a high draft pick.
It says something about the state of the NBA that the biggest stories during the season usually have nothing to do with on-court matters. Until the playoffs start, we’re stuck with a steady diet of the Kobe Bryant trial and the question of whether the Portland Trail Blazers will all get arrested for drug possession concurrently or merely 12 separate times.
College football is winding down. At this point, there are only about four really big games left this season until the January bowl games. And so fans are left studying the Bowl Championship Series standings, wondering, “Just who the heck is Jeff Sagarin, anyway?” This carries with it all the invigorating fun you’d get from studying a spreadsheet. When there’s an argument to be made that Army versus Navy is the biggest game remaining this season, you know things are slowing down.
College basketball hasn’t really started yet. It won’t really get interesting until teams begin conference play in January, College hockey doesn’t really matter until February. The Gophers men’s team proved last year that it doesn’t matter how you look on the ice in November as long as you’ve got the hot hand in February and March. Golf won’t be interesting again until the Masters in April.
And yet, sports fans are nothing if not patient, because the good times are around the corner. It’s the beauty of being a sports fan – something new always awaits us. Next comes January with its bowl games and NFL playoffs. Then March arrives with March Madness NHL and NBA playoff runs and college hockey playoffs. One long baseball-filled summer later, it’s time for September and October, with baseball pennant races and playoffs, plus the beginning of football season. And once those are over, we wait for January, and on and on ad infinitum.
For sports fans, it’s worth it to slog through the slow times. It’s good that we have slow times. They help us appreciate the good times.
Jon Marthaler is a columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]