Don't try to tell us who to hate

Page 2 columnist

I believe I speak for all of us when I confess that I am filled with anger when I see foreign men wearing sandals with socks.

Jay Fiedler
The Dolphins-Bills rivalry remains one of the NFL's most heated.
Why? Because our first instinct is to hate anything our primal ganglia categorize as different than us. The Others. Them. I know it's wrong. My higher being shouldn't surrender to the goat-haunched marauder lurking deep inside me.

That's why I struggle to rise above the linebacker instinct, to stop myself from assuming the football position -- crouched, yet bouncy on the balls of the feet -- and blitzing from the blindside. I tell myself, "Relax, that's why you watch football." At it's very best, the game is an eight-letter sublimation for hate, yet recent developments indicate the NFL has lost its way.

Whenever owners confab, you can count on three things: Bill Bidwell will suffer a few wedgies; unholy alliances will be forged; and at least one agenda that castrates the life blood of the game will be introduced, revisited or -- worst of all -- put into being.

No, I'm not talking about awarding a Super Bowl to Detroit. However wrong it might be to reward a cold-weather city that wussed out and plays in a dome, it doesn't hold a candle to the big ugly that seems to have jelled this week: the sadly overrated notion of "regional rivalries."

A proposed realignment would cluster teams that share regions, economies and culture, which is as wrong as giving Tom Arnold another 15 seconds of fame. It's cannibalism to pit neighbors against one another. What do fans from Pittsburgh and Cleveland have against one another, other than a compulsive need to prove who has been drunk and unemployed the longest?

Consider the best rivalries in the game: Dallas-Washington: Dirty Oil vs. Dirty Politics. Raiders-Chiefs: California Thuggery vs. The Bread Basket of America. Even Chicago-Green Bay works: Cheese-Engorged Villagers vs. their Big-City Cousins.

And then there's my personal favorite: Bills vs. Dolphins. Growing up in Buffalo, I could always count on two things -- my city was forever doomed to walk the earth as a punchline for the rest of the nation, and two Sundays a year we had a chance to even the score against Miami. This one has it all: South against North. Rich against Poor. Sun against Snow. Alleged Glamour City against Alleged Armpit.

The games were great, but more importantly, the cities couldn't be more dissimilar. We lost the entire decade of the '70s to them, and even then Miami was universally accepted as some kind of heaven. Mind you, this is Miami in the '70s, neither the mobster-Gleason-deco Miami, nor the South Beach-supermodel-Versace-death-site Miami. We are talking about the Miami of so many ancient retirees the city was mapped out in varicose veins. Even as these Sunshine State superstars were on their way to a perfect season, the only thing a proud Buffalonian could think was, "Where's the dignity in winning a Super Bowl in shorts?"

Buffalo-Miami has fueled passions for 30-plus years. Every winter you can count on a wire service photo gracing the front page of every paper in the land of some hapless Buffalonian digging his car out of a 12-foot snowdrift. But how does that stack up against little Elian, quivering in the closet, up-close and personal with the nose of a federal agent's Glock?

Even when the Dolphins lost the rest of the millennium to us, it didn't quench the blood lust -- because the right elements were in place:
  • Melanoma farm versus Siberia.
  • A shot and a beer versus a Cosmopolitan.
  • The Canadian border vs. The Cuban revolving door.

And now the NFL wants to flick on the lights and bust up the makeout party. They want to move Miami to a cluster of Florida teams. What is the NFL thinking, that southern fans will get worked up over which city has the best Stuckeys? At this rate, I won't even get to see Thurman Thomas play for Miami next year, which is football's answer to the first five minutes of Death Wish.

And I'm left holding a divisional bag full of low-sperm-count rivalries. The Colts have played in Indianapolis for about five minutes. The Jets aren't even endowed with Gotham-hate since they moved to Jersey. And the Patriots? What's to hate about another cold weather team that isn't even named after a city, but rather some vague region that, depending on which corner you're in, shares a fan base with the Giants?

I watch football so I can fire up my satellite dish and dip my soul in the cleansing waters of hate. I never thought I'd shed a tear for Miami, but dammit, I want my enemies back.

Humorist Nick Bakay, currently a writer for the CBS sitcom "King of Queens," is a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine and Page 2.

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