I'm young enough that the NFL has always been on TV, but old enough that it wasn't always so easily accessible. Sunday Ticket and the Red Zone Channel haven't been around that long. It used to be that you could watch 3 or four games a week. There were maybe two early Sunday games, a late afternoon game, and then Monday Night Football. (Sidenote: remember when Monday Night Football was THE event? I do.) Typically, two of those games were regionally focused.
For example, I grew up in Des Moines and we would get the Chicago Bears on one channel and the Kansas City Chiefs on the other. Every Sunday, whether they were at home or on the road, da Bears were showing on my television. The Dolphins? I could basically only see them if they were playing the Bears or the Chiefs, or if they were playing in the Monday Night game.
So, it stands to reason that I chose to be a fan of either the Bears or the Chiefs. How I chose, though, is what's important here. Now, I could tell you that my older brother is a Bears fan and that's why I chose them. That wouldn't necessarily be incorrect. But, it also wouldn't cut to the heart of not only why I'm a Bears fan, but why I'm a huge football fan in general. Much as I love my brother, the person that's actually responsible for me being a Bears fan is Walter Payton. Sweetness. In my mind, the greatest football player to ever play the game.
I began watching football in the late 70s, right as Payton was in his prime. Among all his amazing feats, you know what one of the most amazing things was about him? He didn't. miss. games. Literally, he missed zero games from 1976 through 1986. So, just as I could count on the Chicago Bears being on my television every Sunday, I could also count on Walter Payton being on my television every Sunday.
Whether the Bears were good or whether they weren't so good, Walter always put on a show. He ran with tenacity and vision. He stiff-armed and crushed defenders. But, he also side-stepped and juked them. He outran them. He outmaneuvered them. Simply put, he was playing on a different level than everyone else on the field. I was enthralled. To have the greatest football player ever on my television every Sunday during my formative years was enough to turn me into the most avid football fan around. It was also enough to solidify the Bears as the beloved.
Of course, being 11 years old when the 1985 Bears destroyed the league and won the Super Bowl didn't hurt. My childhood team has since been the standard against which other defenses are compared.
Your childhood is when dreams are larger than life and heroes are the people that color those dreams. My hero was Walter Payton and he was on my television every Sunday when I was growing through those most impressionable years. I couldn't have been more fortunate to have such an incredible "favorite player" as a child.