Pro Football and Popular Culture

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All
right, admit it. You watched the Super Bowl. At least until it became
obvious that the renegade Baltimore Ravens (no greater offense to
Edgar Allen Poe can be imagined) would destroy the New York Giants.
In the aftermath, allow me to make just two points.

First:
they don’t actually play football anymore. Not in New York. Not
even in Baltimore. Not anywhere. Not real football. Real football
was played by men with names like Marchetti, Brown, Taylor, Moore,
Conerly, Unitas. Real football was played by men with dirty uniforms
and bloody noses. Not spandex tights and Heisman poses.

The
beginning of the end of real football occurred not with the merger
of the AFL and the old NFL, but much earlier, at the moment when
the Dallas Cowboys franchise was added to the NFL. After that the
players, and the game, began a rapid degeneration, straight to today’s
gold chains, earrings, do-rags, and the cocaine-laced parties and
indictments for violent crimes that accompany them. Maybe it was
the Cowboys’ tight silver pants.

Modern
football is really two games played simultaneously on one field.
In the center of activity a bunch of fat boys are pushing and shoving
in their own little sumo wrestling tournament. They might as well
wear loincloths and toss down salt for luck.

Around
the perimeter of the sumo tournament, and occasionally darting through
it, are a bunch of greyhounds playing frisbee. Occasionally one
of the frisbee players makes an especially good throw, another makes
a good catch, and the catcher runs the frisbee – uh, the football – across the goal line. This is how touchdowns are scored in modern
football.

This
game should have a new name. Let’s call it Sumofrisbee.

For
real football, one must now turn to the Classic Sports channel on
cable. That’s real football: a game played by athletes, athletes
who play every down, athletes with the endurance and stamina to
spend more time on the field than posing for the cameras, helmets
off, do-rags in place, on the air-conditioned sidelines.

Real
football is a game without sumo wrestlers. In Sumofrisbee, the sumo
wrestlers – they were called “linemen” in real football –
have bellies like middle-aged recreational league softball players.
Since they can use their hands to “block” (in Sumofrisbee, it’s
really just pushing), they need, more than anything, poundage. If
they are too big and fat to move, they will also be too big and
fat to move out of the way until the quarterback has made his frisbee
toss, usually out of the “shotgun” (stay away from the sumo wrestlers)
position.

To
envision how much the two-platoon rule changed the nature of football,
imagine a similar rule change in baseball. Do you appreciate the
designated hitter rule?

What
if the rule were expanded to cover all nine positions? On defense,
eight speedy, acrobatic fielding experts and a pitcher are on the
field. On offense, nine hitting experts trudge to the plate, one
over-developed creatine-user after another. That would change the
old game, wouldn’t it? With all those fielding experts arrayed against
all those designated hitters, baseball would almost certainly become
an unabashed home-run derby. Sort of like the present reliance on
the forward pass in Sumofrisbee.

Real
football will never be back. The college football factories now
turn out the types of players the professional teams want, the fans
show up on cue every late summer in the RVs and in front of the
TV screens, and the advertising money from the economic engines
driving this sick culture rolls in. Most fans haven’t even noticed
the difference.

Second
point: on Super Bowl Sunday, Americans gather ’round their television
monitors to watch a game played by men most of us would not allow
in our homes absent the use of force. What I can’t figure out is
whether this fact is an irony or mere proof that all that was once
decent in American popular culture is irretrievably lost.

January
31, 2000

Steve
Gregory is a lawyer in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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