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Sitting in an undisclosed public place, enjoying a surprise block of afternoon freedom, I was hit today by a sort of revelation via the next table, where a pair of middle-aged women were going over what I assume are this week's NFL scores. The Jets lost by 3, I bet that was a great game...Seattle won...the Packers beat Minnesota...the Patriots are playing the Bengals tonight. The Bengals suck...

She did say this, a woman of at least 55, conservatively: "The Bengals suck." And I thought, "They do? Aren't the Bengals pretty good?"

The point is not that the Bengals suck, or do not suck, but that I couldn't construct a coherent argument either way. All I might be able to say is, "uh, Chad Johnson," who might be injured or suspended for excessive oral bling for all I know. I'm not even sure of their record, and that unprecedented ignorance means this: the inevitable day has come in my life, at a much earlier date than expected, that - aside from the beloved and completely hapless Saints, who will figure prominently in my death - my knowledge of the professional football players who play the highest level of football on the prestigious football fields of the National Football League pales to that of the grandmothers at the next table.

Of course they fined him. What do you think this is? Fun?
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I knew it was coming to this as far back as 2003, when I fell asleep at the end of a tense playoff game in the middle of the afternoon (during a beer commercial, I'm sure). I openly debated not watching last year's Super Bowl, ostensibly for the anguished flashbacks to the NFC Championship it might cause, but I don't think I would have sacrificed an indispensible moment of my life had I gone through with the boycott. The Colts were the worst defense in the league - a truly, historically terrible defense - and if the Bears weren't fielding the worst offense, all the more reason to look away. A friend with no interest in sports called me a couple weeks ago for help picking NFL games for some contest, and even straight up, she'd have done about as well flipping a coin (even though I did make a point to check my pick of 0-2 Eagles over 2-0 Lions...correct, sir!). I still think of the Rams as a high-powered offense, the hated Greatest Show on Turf, and if that's not the case since the StL moved out of New Orleans' division, I don't want to know. Because those bastards are so worth hating to the maximum extent afforded by the law.

My complaints about the NFL are too long to list, but I have never and in all likelihood will never consciously reject the League; football in general and the Saints in particular being as essential as hemoglobin in the day-to-day functioning of my body, that could never happen. The college game is the major source of my fix these days, obviously, but odds are still even that Monday Night Football will be on in my general vicinity tonight, wherever that is. They are so much worse, though - and this is coming from someone who can still recite every detail about every Super Bowl and the complete playoff tree of every season in his lifetime -  that I might care any more than I did watching a new episode of The Simpsons Sunday. It's still good, but habit and nostalgia have long run thin in the face of diminished returns, predictability and infuriating corporate creep.

Then again, maybe those old women actually are completely clueless about the Bengals. Maybe I'll check them out and they won't suck and the game will be worthwhile. But once commercials outnumber actual plays or they call roughing the passer or illegal contact or a borderline pass interference penalty that penalizes the defense 40 yards or start patting a member of the opposing team on the back for a good block or something, I swear, that game is over to me. I will not tolerate sportsmanship among millionaires.