Monday, January 28, 2019


They go in holes as in golf, basketball, hockey and soccer. They bounce, they roll, they get swatted. And then there is football, with its crazy-shaped pigskin of erratic landings and spiral flings. It also goes in a hole between the goal posts. Football is World War I with its model of trench warfare gaining real estate by the yard. It is the comaradarie of the huddle. The playbook strategy with each player on the field assigned a specific role. It is equal parts finesse and violence. It is chess with stretchers. Cheerleaders and concussions.

For some the Super Bowl is the high point of the year. It will draw up to 120 million viewers. It is a time for male-bonding, beer and bets. Metaphoric bricks thrown at the T.V. screen. For a few hours I’m one of them growing fangs on the couch. Tapping into my reptilian brain. Living by my glands. Acting as if it matters. It matters a lot to Domino’s Pizza and all the rest of them. Somehow football has been tied to the military with flags, bombast and squadrons of aircraft zooming overhead.

To the rest of the nation whose frontal cortex has not abdicated to their medulla it is Stupor Bowl Sunday. They will wash their car, shop at an empty Costco or maybe even read a book. They will sneer at us with a dozen reasons why we are wasting our time.

The game is more than a battle between two teams. It is America’s week of gaming. Some fans will lose their shirt, others will make a killing. We bet on the outcome, the total points, on the half-time show, the color of the coach’s hoodie and even on the number of Trump’s Tweets. It is America gone berserk.

My guess is the audience for the spectacle is equal parts Trump-defenders and Trump-detesters. For this one afternoon we are all brain-addled. We have regressed, suspended our rationality. And when it’s over at least half of us return to enlightenment.

And yet...

If baseball, the pastoral game, is poetry and basketball is the urban sport where everyone speaks fluent Trash as a second language… is all of these played by well-endowed human specimens with a high threshold of pain who are well-choreographed to overcome the next onslaught.

Think of it as theater. The players are actors in a long line of thespians unwittingly reenacting the siege of Troy or landing at Agincourt, the brutal expansion of the Conquistadors or the retreat at Stalingrad. Football is catharsis, the sublimation of hostility, the expiation of our aggression. It would be preposterous to argue that the rise of the National Football League prevented World War III. But it may have dissipated the urge for a barroom brawl here and there. If you don’t agree with me I’ll meet you at the park for a scrimmage. Bring your helmet.  

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