Saturday, December 10, 2011


Baseball is life, so they say, and I don’t disagree. But that was when we were pastoral and puny; a diamond in the rough, heedless of time as we ran around the bases counter-clockwise. Now football is our pastime, a metaphor for business and for war, for all things adversarial. It is America’s game; what we do at home, vicariously, while our military is occupying enemy territory, shocking, awing and droning. 18 of the top 20 most watch T.V. programs are football games, as befits our muscular foreign policy.

We bet on outcomes as if we were generals, fantasizing our armies, devising strategies. Concuss or be concussed. Football players do battle in padded gear and we sit on the couch growling and guzzling. I know; I’m one of them, feeding my reptilian brain.

Of course I look at it as a choreographed ballet of bulky bodies; a cerebral sport with blocking assignments, Hail Marys, fakes and audibles improvised at the line of scrimmage as the quarterback reads the defense. The gridiron is a chessboard with an occasional stretcher.

The game itself often brings out 100,000 fans on Saturday and brings in ten of millions of dollars for division one NCAA schools. It is a growth industry on many campuses. Few student-athletes make it as professionals. Whatever glory is achieved and no doubt,embellished over time, is generally accompanuied by scars followed by an early blue plaque for handicap parking.

Strange, how it is a peculiarly American game, unlike the futball played by the rest of the world. Consider the shape of the ball; American exceptionalism again. Kick, run, pass. Use your hands, your feet, your helmet. A score is not one point as in soccer; it is six and with a conversion,7. There are no ties. We have sudden death as if life itself was on the line.

Football is an elongated march downfield, a muddied advance, played in rain or snow in defiance of the elements. Many exercise their right to bare arms. It is a manly game that spills hormones all over the field. Needed yardage is bulled for, straight ahead. Ulysses inches his way from post to post like the rest of us …. to swooning Penelopes cheering on the sideline. They huddle, we huddle. They fumble just as we bumble; missed assignments, sacks, broken patterns, interceptions. Once I may have punted on first down. This time I go for it on 4th and inches. One team gets to the end zone with victory swagger. It could be me.

The fans at the stadium suit up or down for the spectacle like a paramilitary unit with their gladiator faces, fangs and tattoos, often stripped for action. Aggression sublimated, one hopes.

It’s both brainy and brutal. I gladly let them reenact the ancient ritual. Perhaps football was more symbolic of trench warfare when armies battled for every foot of real estate. Today, our wars are fought with remote buttons against guerillas who vanish into caves or tunnels. The new national pastime might be a series of computer games which simulate both terrorism and occupation along with the next misadventure of a world power foolish enough to imagine we can police the planet. However, until drones come to our neighborhood, football will have to do.

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