When does a 6-yard catch late in the fourth quarter of a 41-7 game by an undrafted receiver out of Huey Gablooey State College make a difference?
When it’s August.
The NFL preseason, often called the exhibition season, or “fake football,” and sometimes even “Roger Goodell’s foot bath,” is a period that many sad, grumpy Americans believe is just a waste, a pigskin folly that does nothing but eat up two game’s worth of season ticket holders’ dollars and gets Chad Greenway hurt.
But the more enlightened among us see the NFL’s four-game August lineup for what it really is: something pure, sanguine and happy because it gives hundreds of men a brief opportunity to put on an NFL uniform, soak up the lights and get their photo taken with Ed Hochuli.
And preseason honestly is quite dramatic. In the regular season a touchdown goes toward determining the outcome of a game. In the preseason every touchdown, every tackle, every missed tackle, goes on the coach’s report card and could mean that a kid spends one year with an NFL team, pocketing $420,000 and being able to forever say he was a bona fide NFL player, even if it was just for one year. Even if it was in Jacksonville.
Or, it could mean that he goes back to Huey Gablooey State College and collects cans.
Sure, as the years go by he’ll say he lasted more than just a few exhibition games and if you don’t believe him look at this photo he just happens to have on his phone of him getting kicked by Ndamukong Suh. But then you’ll check Pro Football Reference and see that, no, September began without him.
And you’ll buy him another Fresca then sneak away when he’s crying in the bathroom.
Like a short story as compared to a novel, the preseason has the wit and flair of brevity that the 16-game slog of the regular season does not. Four August nights have the charm of the ephemeral, like a firefly that glides by proudly before drowning in your cousin’s Leinenkugel.
When the exhibition lights go bright we know summer is coming to an end and for many guys who have played football their whole life, the dream is reaching the end of the tunnel as well.
Training camps end and dorms will give way to college students. Instead of football four or five nights a week, in September it will only be on three or four.
Embrace the preseason. Enjoy the moments when NFL sidelines have more men in uniform than the Swiss Army. Relish seeing linebackers with jersey numbers in the 60s and running backs from BYU.
They say there is no trophy for the preseason, that the only winners are those who emerge healthy. They say a lot of things. Maybe they should just shut up for a while.