What Taylor Swift songs capture the 2023 NFL season: Dear John, Karma, Anti-Hero
What a complete waste of time and space on The Athletic.
What does Swift have to do with sports? Clickbait.
This is literally the worst thing I have ever read from The Athletic.
These are just a handful of comments from a story I wrote in the spring of 2023. I had the temerity to compare different college football coaches to Taylor Swift songs. On the precipice of pure “Traylor Swelce” pandemonium with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, Swifties may be surprised that some pigskin fans are incensed with Swift and the attention she brings to their hallowed game.
While it is confounding why anyone would care if a celebrity is featured during a football game (remember when Rob Lowe wore an NFL hat during a playoff game a few years back?), there remains that vocal minority yelling at the clouds.
This is not an admonishment of those who are overly indexed on Swift stories. This article is meant as an olive branch to connect the Swifties and Never Swifters. I’ve combed through Swift’s vast discography to identify lyrics that explain current dilemmas and controversies in the NFL.
For football fans, the comparisons below between Swift songs and situations in the NFL will help reveal the genius in her lyrics. For Swifties, each comparison is an entry point in understanding that drama — feuds, broken hearts, spurned partners — is as much a part of the National Football League as a Netflix teen rom-com.
Name of the song: “Daylight”
NFL comparison: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to coach Mike McCarthy
I don’t wanna look at anything else now that I saw you
(I can never look away)
I don’t wanna think of anything else now that I thought of you
(Things will never be the same)
I’ve been sleepin’ so long in a 20-year dark night
(Now I’m wide awake)
And now I see daylight (Daylight), I only see daylight (Daylight)
The Cowboys are 4-12 (!) in the playoffs since winning their last Super Bowl in 1996. It has been nearly a 30-year dark night for America’s Team. We all know how desperately Jones would love to see his team back in the Super Bowl. And like the central figure in “Daylight,” Jones believes he found Mr. Right in McCarthy.
But why? McCarthy is like the life partner who is fine when times are easy, but when it gets stressful (let’s say when the in-laws are coming to town and staying in your house), they completely fumble the situation. Despite a strong regular-season record, the Cowboys have failed in the playoffs under McCarthy.
And perhaps more astonishing for Cowboys fans, even during this offseason with Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and a collection of exciting young coordinators available on the market: McCarthy remains Jones’ guy. If things end badly next season, I’m guessing Jones’ Swift song for McCarthy will turn from “Daylight” to “All Too Well.”
Name of the song: “Nothing New”
NFL comparison: Brandon Staley and his relationship to internet supporters
When you’re soaring through the sky
Shoot you down and then they sigh
And say, “She looks like she’s been through it”
Lord, what will become of me
Once I’ve lost my novelty? …
And will you still want me
When I’m nothing new?
“Nothing New” speaks to the ending of the honeymoon period, when the newness rubs off and the criticism comes. For a brief moment, Staley was the hot new thing in coaching. Quickly, the former Los Angeles Chargers head coach became the online community’s favorite coach. There’s his proclamation of why running the ball is important in modern NFL offenses. There are his strongly held beliefs on living with a decision. He was even compared to Ted Lasso. Staley seemed like a real-life fan-fiction character from some NFL analytics subreddit.
But then the games were played, and more losses piled up than wins. His assets became arrows that eventually brought him down. The Chargers’ rushing attack ranked in the bottom third of the league. The aggressive plays on fourth down blew up in his face. The internet fell out of love with Staley. The new thing in coaching suddenly didn’t feel so new, leaving Staley to wonder whether any team would want him.
Name of the song: “Dear John”
NFL comparison: Aaron Rodgers and New York Jets fans
Well, maybe it’s me
And my blind optimism to blame
Or maybe it’s you and your sick need
To give love and take it away
And you’ll add my name to your long list of traitors
Who don’t understand
And I look back in regret how I ignored when they said
“Run as fast as you can”
“Dear John” is a modern diss track deserving of its place among some of the diss-track greats like Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline” and Nas’ “Ether.” Swift’s 2010 ballad about her short-term romance with singer-songwriter John Mayer attacks its subject in riffs and lyrics. The guitar throughout pulls from Mayer’s bluesy blends and slides, and Swift sonically (and not too subtly) references her ex-flame. But it’s the words that align with the NFL quarterback.
“Dear John” paints the picture of a self-centered, attention-obsessed individual who emotionally is all over the map. The comparison between Rodgers and “Dear John” is startling. During the past offseason, Rodgers dramatically held up the trade from the Green Bay Packers to the Jets to maximize attention. He strong-armed the Jets into hiring his former teammates and coaches. Rodgers got hurt in the first game but fanned the flames of a possible miracle comeback late in the season during paid appearances on “The Pat McAfee Show.” And during that time, there was Zach Wilson — thrust into the starting spot for Rodgers — expecting mentorship from his idol but barely hearing from Rodgers, who spent much of the season in California.
Worst of all, there was emotional abuse inflicted upon the Jets fan base, which has been treated to a lot of bad quarterbacking since the halcyon days of Joe Namath.
Name of the song: “Exile”
NFL comparison: Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears
I think I’ve seen this film before
And I didn’t like the ending
You’re not my homeland anymore
So what am I defending now?
You were my town, now I’m in exile, seein’ you out
I think I’ve seen this film before
“Exile” is a song about two lovers who have had their hearts broken before and are in the process of breaking each other’s hearts, an acknowledgment that their relationship isn’t working and how this painful process is all too similar. Is there anything that better speaks to the experience of Bears fans and Fields?
The fact that Bears fans have to wrap their minds around Jay Cutler being the best quarterback they’ve had since Jim McMahon (some might even say Sid Luckman) speaks to their disastrous history with QBs.
And Fields? Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. After two strong seasons at Ohio State, he entered the NFL Draft and was the fourth quarterback taken, eventually by the Bears in almost a marriage of convenience.
Fields’ time in Chicago started with him backing up Andy Dalton, then seeing the head coach and executive who drafted him fired. Now the Bears are considering trading Fields and drafting a quarterback in April. The cycle of heartbreak rolls on Chicago and for Fields.
Name of the song: “Anti-Hero”
NFL comparison: Bill Belichick to the league’s owners
Sometimes, I feel like everybody is a sexy baby
And I’m a monster on the hill
Too big to hang out, slowly lurching toward your favorite city
Pierced through the heart, but never killed
This must be so confusing for the former Patriots coach. For years, Belichick was the “sexy baby” of the NFL, a generational football mind who made cutoff sweatshirts an iconic look. For years, every other franchise wanted a piece of the “Patriots Way” as he stacked victories and won six Super Bowls.
Slowly the magic started to fade, and after this season, he was let loose by Patriots owner Robert Kraft. The mastermind behind the singular great modern NFL dynasty was on the market. Surely another desperate franchise would swoop in and hope to get a piece of that glory for itself.
But Belichick now is the monster on the hill. He took multiple interviews with the Atlanta Falcons but, in the end, didn’t get the job. The Washington Commanders reportedly considered Belichick for their opening but instead hired Dan Quinn, the coach who let a 28-3 lead slip away against Belichick’s Patriots in Super Bowl LI. The 71-year-old former head coach is staring down the very real possibility he may never run an NFL team again.
Name of the song: “Ours”
NFL comparison: The San Francisco 49ers and Brock Purdy
Seems like there’s always someone who disapproves
They’ll judge it like they know about me and you
And the verdict comes from those with nothing else to do
The jury’s out, but my choice is you
So don’t you worry your pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
And life makes love look hard
The stakes are high, the water’s rough
But this love is ours.
Who are we to judge a relationship that is working? “Ours” focuses on a couple that sees and hears outside criticism of the relationship. But for the two people inside that relationship, they understand why what they have is special.
The critics have their arrows pointed at Brock Purdy and the 49ers in the same way.
He doesn’t deserve those weapons like Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey.
Imagine any other quarterback running Kyle Shanahan’s offense. They’d do just as well.
Is he all that different from Jimmy G.? Is Purdy actually any good?
No matter how loudly his teammates support him, Purdy remains the 49ers’ weak link in the eyes of many. Even now with his team in the Super Bowl, the doubts remain. The former Mr. Irrelevant will have to take his team across football’s version of a marriage altar — winning a championship — to prove to the world he’s the right man for the job.
Name of the song: “I Forgot That You Existed”
NFL comparison: Patrick Mahomes to every other quarterback he faces.
I forgot that you existed
And I thought that it would kill me, but it didn’t
And it was so nice
So peaceful and quiet
I forgot that you existed
It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference
I forgot that you
“I Forgot That You Existed” is a devastating message wrapped in cheery, piano-led beats and casual finger snapping. At its core, the song is about how a rival used to take up space in Swift’s mind, but Swift has so elevated past that person that the former rival is barely worth thinking about now.
Which brings us to Mahomes. We sports fans/journalists/analysts suffer from a unique psychological disorder I’ve labeled Alternative Affection Disorder (AAD for short). AAD’s primary affliction involves ignoring someone who is the best at what they do and constantly looking for alternatives.
Yeah, Mahomes is great. But did you see Lamar Jackson rip off that 45-yard touchdown run?
Sure, sure, Mahomes can fling it. But Josh Allen is simply a more dangerous deep-ball thrower.
No one operates better in the pocket than Joe Burrow.
It must be funny to Mahomes as he hears the chatter about other quarterbacks who put together a strong season or single playoff game. Inevitably, he and the Chiefs play that challenger for the throne. And for the most part, Mahomes sends his competitors contemplating whether they’ll ever be good enough to overtake the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
The hunt for crowning something new and fresh often comes at the cost of appreciating singular greatness. Mahomes has not only maintained his greatness, but he’s built upon his legacy. Regardless of the Super Bowl outcome, the Chiefs quarterback is in the tier only a few athletes in sports enter into: the unimpeachable, unquestionable No. 1 of their generation.
Name of the song: “Karma”
NFL comparison: Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift
Sweet like justice, karma is a queen
Karma takes all my friends to the summit
Karma is the guy on the screen
Coming straight home to me
A final note to all the football fans who think the attention Swift brings is “ruining the game.” I know nothing will push you off your position, but just ask yourself what is actually being lost by the 25 seconds of airtime Swift commands during an NFL broadcast.
A camera shot of some shirtless 53-year-old dude with his body painted from head to toe? An awkward angle on an NFL owner chowing down on a chicken finger? A cutaway to a B-list celebrity who is fronting CBS’s newest hit show?
I promise you, you aren’t missing much. Let’s all just enjoy Super Bowl Sunday, one of the best days of the year. And if you need an emotional hedge, bet the over on amount of seconds Swift will be on screen. If you’re actually upset with her presence, you’d might as well make some money off it.
(Top photos of Bill Belichick, Taylor Swift and Jerry Jones: Bob DeChiara / USA Today; Christopher Jue / TAS24 / Getty Images for TAS Rights Management; and Nelson Chenault / USA Today)