why I love the NFL playoffs & why it’s not so much about sports

So I apologize now for maybe my clunkiest title ever. Bear with me. I promise this is not really about sports, even though for sports enthusiasts, last weekend was one of the most exciting ever on the professional gridiron.

Last weekend we witnessed incredibly competitive match-ups between teams hailing from the Golden City, Music City, Queen City, City of Angels, City of Fountains, City of Good Neighbors, Titletown and the Big Guava (… not to mention less reputable monikers such as Porkopolis, La-La Land, and the Toilet Paper Capital of the World).

While the nicknames never dampen our fondness for creativity, that’s not why I love the NFL playoffs.

The 49ers, Bengals, Bills, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Packers, Rams and Titans played such highly competitive games that each of the four pigskin contests was decided on the final play of the game with zero time remaining. In fact, the four Divisional round games were decided by a total of 15 points — meaning the average margin of victory was only 3.8 points per game, the lowest average margin of victory in NFL playoff history in a round with at least four games.

That’s still not why I love the NFL playoffs.

There are some fascinating personalities involved in the playoffs…

We are able to watch some growing young men, not close to their perceived athletic prime, utilize their tremendous talent to lead their team… QB’s Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and Patrick Mahomes, for instance; they are a respective 25, 25 and 26 years old. Juxtapose the young against the skillful vets we’ve viewed for years… Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford. It may actually be the last we’ve seen of “Tom Terrific,” “Tampa Tom” or the “G.O.A.T.” Tom Edward Patrick Brady Jr. might not just be the Greatest Of All Time to play football; he’s in the conversation as one of the greatest athletes of all time… all that after taken 199th in the 2000 NFL Draft.

Still… not why I love the playoffs.

The Intramuralist has long loved football. With Packer and Viking roots sharpened by a healthy splash of pre-Jerry Jones Cowboys, I’ve found the game fun and entertaining to watch; it’s strategically complex, and the promotion of players has taken on a life of its own.

Yet my love for the playoffs can best be exemplified in the totality of a few hours late, last Saturday afternoon. I must first confess… yes, I admit… I am a Bengals fan.

There were years when such a public admission was akin to the way some feel emboldened to ridicule or shame various political loyalties… How could you support the flamboyant antics of Chad Ochocinco Johnson?! … You’re really ok with Vontaze B. losing his cool one more time?… And another? Another guy in trouble with the law?…

I learned something through those less-admired, not-so-fun years. When your team isn’t winning, there’s a lot more scrutiny. Let us make no excuses for poor behavior; let us also acknowledge that Cincinnati was rarely, consistently winning. Winning matters.

On Saturday in Cincinnati, I was traveling through and made a point to watch the game with some I knew, some I did not. There were all sorts of people in the room — a variety of age, stage and demographics. We gathered also amidst the bitter cold; it, too — external circumstances — did not matter.

Granted, we were each part of the Cincinnati/Queen City/Porkopolis faithful, but there was no insult nor disdain of the other team. All due respect to the Titans of Tennessee.

When the game began, we were eager together. When the game looked like we might go down in yet another, not-so-fun-years-reminder defeat, we expressed more subdued regret together. And when victory came with emphatic surprise, we jubilantly celebrated together.


They say the culture is different in the Cincinnati locker room this year. The town seems different, too. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been gone too long.

Or maybe instead it’s because with wise and talented leaders, they’ve magnified what they have in common, minimized the different, and learned that joy and success are contagious when we respectfully share eagerness, regret and celebration so freely together.

It was a good day in Cincinnati. 

I sure do love those playoffs…