LeBron and Curry are crushing the NBA Finals. The never-anything Washington Capitals and never-before Las Vegas Golden Knights are a Dream Fantasy of Stanley Cup legendizing. Even baseball has some sex appeal amid a Yanks/Sox Genetic Superiority Grudge Match.

But if you are a sports monogamist like me, and you love football, this is the lamest time of the year. At every level, last season has faded into anecdotal irrelevance. Those who are coaching or playing know that spring practice is either over or is soon to be over. NFL followers are so over the draft and the kneeling (or not), and even trades are done as the salary cap wrecks all freelancing.

The love of football is a genetic affliction for some of us, no matter what the season, even during this lamest of non-football times. It never leaves our emotional core. In fact, in the absence of actual playing or human drama, memory and perspective have a chance to well up.

* * *

45 years after the fact, I still feel a twinge of something. It was 1972, at a practice in Buffalo. I was 17.

A teammate who did not want to be there was pretty appealing to a female who was pretty appealing to me. I loathed him because of it. We were practicing a mid-century drill where players formed a single line, facing forward, and the two at the back of the line faced the front and at the whistle launched to the front of the line. If you got there first and kept the other from your side by, well, knocking him down — you won.

This time, that kid was in front of me. At that whistle, I saw white hatred explode into primal violence, and although I was a pretty slow runner, I launched hard enough that I hit him with every ounce of my 187 pounds, meeting his hips at a dead horizontal in a full uncoiled explosion and propelling him and myself 5 yards away from the point of impact.

In the seconds following, I was first exultant, then terrified, then guilty. I thought I had killed him.

Of course, he jumped up easily and took his place at the head of the line, while I lay recovering on the ground before getting up to join him.

I have yet to come to terms with the fact that for a bit of a second it gave me great joy to think I had taken him out. In every other of the thousands of violent collisions I had, I was either protecting another player as an offensive lineman or was staunching an assault from the other team (I was also a linebacker). Here, I wanted to end the presence of a kid I did not know. I felt incoherent, full-blown hate.

I do not know what to do with that incident, even today. Maybe especially now. I have grown to live a faith in God, which I have always had but simply accepted. Now in my life as an architect, writer, husband and father, I simply try to do what I hope is in full connection with the God I know and with Jesus, who I know was human and got pissed occassionally, too. But Jesus never played ball.

Many of those I dearly love virtually hate football. Many more view the game with extreme suspicion, even ignorance. Football creates projectiles of our bodies. It hurts almost every human on the field, a little or a lot, on almost every play. It might not be as dangerous as riding a motorcycle, but many want to outlaw it. Those “in the know” view it with a disgust akin to smoking, or bacon. Football, to them, represents the very worst in us: violence and danger — often resulting in self-destruction. It is a unique human expression that causes fear in those who do not feel the bonds of love and devotion its exercise gives to those who actually play it.

I am fully profane and human, too.

My love of those kids whom I sweat alongside as a player, and as a coach, in a sport that is supremely violent, often brutally vicious, is almost unequaled in these intervening decades, because devotion can be more extreme when understanding is limited in youth.

But there was a presence of hard, open faith in football this past year. We might have easily missed it, because it was largely covered only in the “Christian” press. The 2018 Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles are a juggernaut of extremely devoted, talented young men and coaches in a pretty jaded, cut-throat world of pay-for-play violence and anger.

Many, probably most, on that team are openly Christian. Not just “spiritual” or full of love for each other, their kids, spouses, or Moms. They express convictions similar to their coach, Doug Pederson, who said: “I can only give praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity.” At every opportunity.

The Eagles’ Carson Wentz, perhaps the best quarterback of the moment when he is not injured, is even more direct. “If Jesus is not part of it, I don’t want to be a part of it.”

Another player Joshua Cooley broadens these simple sentiments: “What distinguishes the Eagles’ group is the players’ uncompromising pursuit of biblical truth, deep theology, genuine accountability and gospel-fueled charity. They’re not interested in status-quo spirituality.” In October, there was even a  baptism of six players in a gym therapy tub by player Trey Burton (and pastor Ted Winsley).

In a place where performance is often fueled and abetted by hatred and drugs, the NFL is made even less comfy for we mortals by the legacy of players caught with drugs or protesting at the national anthem. Odell Beckham, Jr., wide receiver for the New York Giants, had to explain away video footage from this winter which revealed him in bed with a Parisian model and a mound of white powder. In contrast, this year’s Super Bowl champion team espouses its punter Donnie Jones’ words: “All our blessings come from Him.”

In the maelstrom of our most hubristically violent sport — a culture which is created to ritualize explosive personal projection — there appears to be a group which has, at its core, the presence of Jesus as the central purpose in their lives.

Says Wentz, “I’m going to be genuine. I’m going to be authentic with believers, non-believers — it doesn’t matter. I am going to love on them. I’m going to treat them all the same. I’m going to respect them.” He goes further to say, “I think guys are willing to talk when you don’t have this self-righteous attitude, when you have mutual respect — it just makes a healthier environment.”

The same folk, whom I know and love, who hate football, also think Christianity is a mass-delusion of self-righteous hypocrisy. Despite that, some of them love me, even though I walk the talk of both despicables.

And I love them, too.