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Commentary: ‘Friday Night Lights,’ ‘The League’ can serve as replacements for Buckeye football

Football season can be rough for movie lovers. The indifference, or even downright apathy toward the sport by the cinephile lot is often met with confusion, and sometimes hostility from the sporting enthusiast. “How can you not like football?” they ask. It’s a fair question. At this point in the development of our culture (popular, or otherwise), football ranks up there with Tom Hanks movies, or “Call Me Maybe,” as something everybody likes. Naturally, there are always outliers, and I suppose I’m one of them.

What a prank I pulled on myself then by coming to Ohio State, home of not just one of the best college football programs in the country, not just The Best Damn Band In The Land, not just the most fervent group of fans you’re likely to encounter, but the home of what ESPN in 2000 called the greatest rivalry in North American sports. If you’re a Buckeye, you care about the game against “that team up north.” And if you don’t, there’s a problem.

My feelings toward football have changed since I’ve been at OSU. The sort of too-cool-for-school, punk-rock snobbery I approached the sport with when I got here was replaced first by an ironic, overly-enthusiastic, faux enjoyment, and then finally by a resigned acceptance.

Truth be told, I’ve worked during most of the home games since my second-year, and have done a lot of solo movie-going. I’d say I actively watch about half the games in a given season, but I’ve gotten to the point where if the game is on, and more importantly, if
my friends are there, I’ll sit through it.

But I have a hard time investing any real feelings in it. Win or lose, the results of a Buckeyes game has very little impact on my actual life. Do I want them to win? Sure. I like this school, I like when our team reflects positively upon us (a bit problematic the last couple of years) and it makes my friends happy when they win. But gun to my head, do I really care if we beat Michigan this Saturday, securing a perfect season, and reclaiming bragging rights after the disappointing loss last year (even if a bowl game is not in the cards)? Not especially.

It’s strange, funny even, that two of my favorite television shows of the past five years have been concerned, in a very broad sense, with football. I think NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” is up there with “Lost” as one of the finest network dramas in history. As Coach Eric Taylor, Kyle Chandler did wonderful, layered work and his Emmy win for the final season was much deserved. Of course, behind every great man, there’s a great woman, and Connie Britton was truly that as Mrs. Coach, Tami Taylor (shame about her being casted on “Nashville,” though).

The reason I love these series, however, couldn’t really have less to do with football. What I find so commendable about “Friday Night Lights” is that even during the most melodramatic storylines, the show always featured very relatable characters grounded in a very real world. “Texas forever,” indeed.

The other series, FX’s “The League,” I love because it’s exactly the kind of filthy ensemble comedy that has long tickled my funny bone. I understand fantasy football even less than I understand the actual sport, but “The League” can hardly be considered a show about football, fantasy or otherwise. It’s really about a group of lifelong friends who, in the face of ever-approaching middle age, retain a youthful enthusiasm for their fantasy league, and all the pranks, smack-talk and debauchery that come with it. I don’t get all the references to individual players, but I know a good fart joke when I hear one.

I’m sorry to say that my love of the Dillon Panthers (and then the East Dillon Lions) or the “Double Entendres” has done little to increase my love of, you know, actual football. No, I didn’t jump in Mirror Lake this week, and yes, I will be working during the game on Saturday (though, again, I’m always hopeful for a Buckeye victory).

But what “Friday Night Lights” and “The League” have done is give me a better understanding of football culture. For Buckeye fans, a win against Michigan is as important as Matt Saracen leading the Panthers to a state championship in the first season, or who wins the Shiva (please god, anybody but Ruxin). For pop culture addicts, real life is sometimes easier to understand through a lens of fiction. This way, we can better relate to the real world or sports, because we understand the stakes.

And so, in conclusion, never forget, “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” And of course, go Bucks.

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