Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Jeff Labrecque
February 04, 2013 at 06:58 PM EST

Except for in the winning team’s hometown, Monday morning after the Super Bowl can be one of the gloomiest days of the year. The NFL’s “winter Fourth of July” celebration is arguably America’s biggest holiday, and the morning-after malaise can feel and smell like Times Square on Jan. 1 — if Times Square was coated in coagulated buffalo-wings hot sauce. After 22 consecutive weeks of true must-see television — yes, of course I count the Pro Bowl — football season… is over. Television loses its most valuable and reliable property for six months, and fans lose a weekly social ritual that has no equal. Just like that, your Sunday afternoons and Monday nights are wide open — affording you the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with your children and spouse, long-suffering gridiron orphans and widows who’ve made peace with your unrestrained devotion to your pigskin mistress, cheap beer, and absolutely pretend gambling with fake money I swear.

Last night’s game was another ratings record-breaker, and while March Madness, the Masters, and baseball spring training are just around the corner, the end of football season can feel like a death in the family. Uncle Pete, who’s not your uncle and wears a Phil McConkey throwback jersey, goes into hibernation at least until April’s NFL Draft, as do the herd of misfits who’ve peppered your phone with fantasy-football trade offers during Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Eve mass, and youth soccer games that you’re supposed to be coaching.

For some, the return to normalcy will be jarring: yardwork, interaction with sober members of the opposite sex, eating non-bratwurst foods for breakfast. Thank goodness for the NFL Network, which is a 24/7 lifeline for the most serious addicts. Typically, when the league mentions the possibility of expanding the season to 18 regular season games and adding two more teams to the playoffs, I sniff at the owners’ greed and worry that they’ll water down their near-perfect product. But then I look long and hard at my weekend calendar for February… and I have second thoughts. Seriously, what are you going to do next Sunday?

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