Origins Of Your Overly Emotional and Ludicrous Football-Watching Behavior

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Anything can happen. It’s not over by a long shot. The Season After The Seahawks Won The Superbowl began with an away game at San Diego on a super-hot Sunday afternoon. Really hot. People were naked in the stands, LEGOLAND melted, the lions at the San Diego Zoo took over the penguin exhibit’s 200,000 gallon pool, complete with lawn chairs and drinks, devouring several of the unfortunate, tuxedoed creatures in the process, more out of habit than hunger given it was too hot to eat. It was crazy.

Oh the game! It was an even match like most early-season games as the players hadn’t been concussed or had legs torn off yet. We despairingly watched Antonio Gates make a game-sealing, diving touchdown catch to officially hand the reigning Super Bowl champions a big fat 0-1 record.

Of course despite this setback, that season generated a second, albeit nightmarish, Super Bowl appearance, the outcome of which forced a six month long, self-imposed media blackout so we could actually function at work. Then the years flew by, with several up-and-down seasons, most of which resulted in playoff appearances and several IRS audits based on our questionable accounting practices, neither of which amounted to much. And here we are, today, traumatized Seahawks fans.

Every Seahawks fan likely goes through the same emotional process during a game regardless of how drunk they are or how good the team is. It starts with optimism and confidence and nachos, which are quickly replaced by anguish and despair and Tums, followed by a few dashes of hope and adrenaline and something sweet because of all of the salt, and concluding with unfounded accusations, coach-like recommendations to anyone unfortunate enough to be within earshot given the complete lack of coaching expertise, and hopefully some bottled water.

Meanwhile, all football fans have the same questions about their team. Why did you run the ball in that situation? Why do we keep getting penalties? Why does the entire team, including the waterboys, generate penalties? Are female referees attractive? Why is this so nerve-wracking? Do people think the male referrees are attractive? Where’s our car? Why do I care?

Fandom is stressful for all of us, with Seahawks fandom being the most stressful in the league. Which may explain why Seahawks fans are some of the most notoriously awful fans NFL-wide, at least on an obnoxiousness scale. Which is better than a felony assault scale, although we all know undercover SPD officers prowl about Lumen field dressed in visiting team gear to basically entrap the lunatics who are six bloody mary’s, eight beers and one flask of Jack Daniel’s in. Which, frankly, they should. Entrap that is. The cops. Nobody should have 20 drinks at a football game.

Yet some people, people we want to emulate, seamingly react to stressful situations with a calm nonchalance. There are two reasons why. The first involves an incredible capacity to handle physical and mental strain ala the NAVY Seals or other Special Forces Communities, who’s secret maxim that we may have stolen for our website if you read that post works like this:

“Always look cool.”

“Always know where you are and what you are doing.”

“Even if you don’t know where you are or what you are doing, always look cool.”

This capacity is a genetic or other-worldly gift (we don’t find out until we die), and in the case of Special Forces folks or professional athletes it’s perfected through vomit-inducing training, coupled with sharp honing, until it becomes not second- but first-nature.

The second reason involves being so dense and unthoughtful that the realization of risk, uncertainty, and import is never actualized in the synapse, which is also either a genetic or other-worldly gift, the origins of which are revealed upon death. It’s best represented by the dolt’s maxim:

“Just don’t care.”

Which is great advice if you don’t actually care, but terrible advice if you’re a kicker on the 34-yard line with two seconds left down by two. Or if you’re a slightly overweight, cheeto- munching, pilsner-swilling, middle-aged fan watching that kicker.

Enter Seahawks fandom. Surely many teams in the NFL suffer from season after season of tight-game stress and we don’t realize this because we absolutely don’t care about them. But somehow it’s different in Seattle, given that even great seasons feature frequent come-from-behind wins, or at a minimum a point differential of seven or less with the opposing team driving down field in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter. Or, to re-emphasize the obvious, looking at the team and thinking, “Just possess the ball for like 3 minutes, that’s it, just a few possessions oh please.” Made worse by enviously, desperately and longingly watching the ticker of updated scores across the league, some with three to five touchdown margins and three minutes remaining.

Sure, the NFC West is insanely tough and we as individuals have no credibility given we don’t like being hit, tackled, wrestled-with, or generally touched. The bottom line is, as confusing at is it to watch history repeat itself, and how great it is that Seattle offers unbelievably entertaining games on any prime-time slot (Thursday, Sunday, or Monday night football) – entrancing the fans as well as the networks since networks love the ad revenue secondary to great ratings from these close games as well as the subsequent opportunities to buy more gold-plated Gulfstream G650s – it’s damaging our mental health.

But why is this so? Unless one is subject to gambling addiction and associated threats of physical violence from organized crime-affiliated bookmakers, the outcome of a football game is inconsequential. So why do we sweat, shake, pace, fist-shake, feel sick, and ultimately care?

It turns out our messed up brains are partially messed up by our ability to empathize. Mirror neurons allow us to understand points of view outside our own, the exception being politics where regardless of the topic or issue the brain goes completely blank and we actually go blind and are literally unable to even remotely want to try to understand each other’s point of view, especially if meeting in the middle is required for progress, the benefit of society, our even our own prosperity. But for football, mirror neurons kick in like crazy, as evidenced by the use of the first person plural pronoun “we,” as in, “All we have to do is not go three and out in 22 seconds and…ah crap!”

These empathetic feelings are intensified while watching football because when we watch our team on the field we are, literally quite naturally, experiencing a portion of the feelings the players have – including knowing what it’s like to know that no matter what we’re going home to what is most likely a really sweet pad – because our mirror neurons are at work. Same goes for the cheerleaders; when we concentrate on them we feel lithe, happy, and endlessly encouraging and optimistic about our chances to get a part in a feature film or at least a modeling contract.

What a disaster, and it gets worse. When the Seahawks win or play well, our noggins release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which regulates our pleasure centers as if we’ve stumbled upon a cache of awesome drugs, not that we’ve done that. Conversely, when the Seahawks commit 972 penalties not thanks to a defense that’s so powerful, aggressive and hungry that it doesn’t matter or at least is just the price for being so predator-like, the brain releases cortisol, or the stress hormone. And thus comes the pacing and other compensatory measures like making then gorging upon chili-cheese nachos with pulled pork on top. Yum. But the stress is still there despite this slovenly behavior, in turn lowering our favorite neurotransmitting mood stabilizer serotonin, which can lead to anger and depression, the latter of which is associated with ecstasy hangovers, so we hear.

No wonder we’re exhausted after yet another down-to-the wire, half-a-score margin Seahawks game, regardless of the outcome. But there’s more – we reflect the anxiety the players themselves experience. This includes cognitive and somatic anxiety, or in normal words, racing thoughts in the brain in the face of uncertainty leading to fun things like profuse sweating and feeling like we might barf all over the place. Which would be bad given the chili-cheese, pulled pork-slathered nachos we just housed down.

And victory is no cure. Another thing that can happen when our team wins or when we find out this Friday night our spouse is going out with their friends and our kid is going to sleepover is our brains are thrown into an excitatory state thanks to the activation of the hormone adrenaline, which increases heart rates, blood pressures and desires to watch action movies and drink beer because we have the house to ourselves. Of course this also happens during the stress and nervousness of a close game, during which the body diverts blood flow to important organs like the brain and heart, but not so much to our stomachs, thus the tummy “butterfly” effect.

If we’re worried about our health, or simply don’t like the way we feel during a game, doctors recommend taking fandom into perspective and, like many of the things we worry about, focus on how in the greater scheme of our lives the outcome is not that big of a deal. After all (these quacks who probably smoke Marloboros and have questionable medical credentialing claim), NFL football is meant for entertainment purposes and to take our minds off the stressors and struggles we have in the real world.

Right. Tell that to our bookie. Victory is everything. Here’s to the emotional rollercoaster that is Seahawks fandom and, we suppose, the fandom of whichever other stupid NFL teams people follow. We’re already prepping nacho toppings for this Sunday’s game. We suggest watching a comedy immediately afterwards, maybe revisit Old School, The Hangover, 40-Year-Old Virgin, or some such quality film we wish we’d written. Just to take the mind off everything, and hopefully get a good night’s sleep despite the excitement.

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