From NASCAR to lacrosse to baseball, how to survive the eight months—or more—until the NFL returns.
The First Amendment may prohibit the United States from having an official religion, but everyone knows that we've got one. Professional football is the opiate of these masses. Those eight months of cold turkey from the end of the Super Bowl to the first snaps of the fall season can feel like an eternity, and this year that eternity might last even longer. Despite the news that the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to mediation, football is heading towards a work stoppage this fall. For fans already in a funk without their pigskin, now teetering towards panic at thought of a lockout, the Culture channel has a few substitutes to keep you busy until the game returns. Assuming, that is, it ever does.
Baseball draws closer, of course. One of the surest signs of spring is when baseball players start getting arrested for drunk driving in Florida. (Quick party tip for Miguel Cabrera. If you have to ask people, "Do you know who I am?," they don't, and they wouldn't care if they did.) Pitchers and catchers are already at camp, with a mandatory report date of Feb. 26 for everyone else. A quick month of games whose main purpose is to give winter-weary northern fans a place to vacation, and we get real Major League Baseball, Opening Day, on March 31.
There is also wall-ball. If football is truly an opiate, arena football is like methadone. After 22 seasons in business, the AFL folded when the economy did, but a reconstituted AFL is back, and opening night is March 14. If the new AFL teams are smart, their advertising campaigns will make fun of the rich NFL players and richer NFL owners who can't figure out how to divvy up the billions.
But why not start at Daytona? If you don't understand why people like NASCAR, Sunday's Daytona 500 is the race to watch.
First, you really need to get over the idea that NASCAR is "just left turns." Seriously. Any sport can sound simple if you use simplistic enough language to describe it. When you are driving in a bumper-to-bumper, side-to-side pack of racecars moving at 190 mph, there is absolutely nothing simple about turning left.
Show up early, too. With most spectator sports, casual fans are better off tuning in at the end—watching the ninth inning, or fourth quarter. In motorsports, the casual fan is best off seeing the beginning. That's doubly true at Daytona, where the last 10 laps can take an hour to run, and look like a demolition derby. At the race's start, though, when that green flag drops on the first lap of the season, sending those 43 peacock-colored cars in tight formation thundering down the backstretch of a four-lane oval, it's the biggest, loudest, brightest, fastest, most grandiose spectacle in all of sports. Case closed.
On the subject of sports that are "just left turns," the Kentucky Derby prep race schedule offers some of horseracing's most exciting, tradition-rich events. Like the $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 27, for instance, the Santa Anita Derby on April 3, and a big doubleheader on April 10, when the Bluegrass Stakes and Arkansas Derby both air on NBC. All of these leads, of course, to the Run for the Roses —the 137th annual Kentucky Derby on May 7th, for which I've already started making a hat.