03 February 2008

American Football: Not So Boring After All

When I was a boy, I was quite a big fan of American football. I can still vividly recall the day Bobby Layne led my beloved Detroit Lions to a 59-14 demolitions of the Cleveland Browns in the 1957 NFL championship game. This was long before the AFL or the Super Bowl came into being, of course. This also being before the Livermore family homestead had a reliably working television, I had to listen to it on the radio, which may have made it more exciting for me, since at age 10 my mostly unfettered imagination could create more dramatic pictures than any cathode ray tube could ever muster.

In the 1960s my interest waned along with the Lions' fortunes and my growing conviction that there was something not "cool" about sports, a conviction that became cemented into place by the ascendancy of the hippies, many of whom denounced football as a violent metaphor for the war-obsessed capitalism that we were going to replace with peace and love and free money.

It wasn't until the mid to late 70s that I decided it was all right to like football again, aided by the example of my philosopher/effete esthete friend 327 Dave, who despite burying himself in Wittgenstein's Tractatus, penning lovelorn adolescent poetry and wandering about in a psychedelic daze chanting, "Robert Fripp is God," could also work himself into an all-American testosterone froth over the fate of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Shortly after Dave made it respectable for me to like football again, my cousin (second cousin once removed, but cousin nonetheless) Joe Montana came to play for the 49ers and turned those perennial bottom-feeders into one of the greatest and most glamorous NFL franchises ever. The year the 49ers drafted him, his grandmother enclosed a note in her Christmas card saying, "My Joe has got a new job playing football in San Francisco, so I hope you'll get in touch with him. I don't think he knows anybody out there, so he might be feeling kind of lonely." She gave us Joe's address and phone number, but my dad, who was no football fan to begin with, refused to let us call him, saying it would be unseemly.

"He'll probably have relatives coming out of the woodwork asking him for free tickets," Dad opined, to which I protested, "Well, then we ought to get in there before he realizes that." Dad got his way, however, and within a couple years, the 49ers were on their way to the Super Bowl, at which point even I had to admit that hitting up Cousin Joe for favors would be tacky and probably non-productive to boot.

So I only got to see him play once, and that was just as a substitute against the Chicago Bears during the 49ers last miserable 2-14 season before they started their spectacular climb to the top of the football world. But like most people I knew, I followed the 49ers passionately during those glory years; the day that Dwight Clark caught that Montana pass that put them in the Super Bowl for the first time, I threw myself about in such a frenzy that I almost went through a plate glass window.

Then once again my interest faded. Cousin Joe retired, replaced by the much blander and non-related Steve Young, I got far more involved with punk rock, which, unless you were part of a straightedge youth crew, tended to scorn sports for much the same reasons as the hippies of yore. And then I moved to England.

I was surprised to find that punk rockers over there felt no conflict about supporting their favorite football (i.e., soccer) team in fact it was punks who took me to my first several matches, before I decided I liked it well enough to start going on my own. And from then on you could regularly hear me proclaiming the infinite superiority of soccer (i.e., the real football, something I continued to do after my return to the States, to the considerable annoyance of my many friends who loved American football (the punk strictures against sports seeming to have completely expired by now).

I still follow English football very closely, particularly the (mis)fortunes of my beloved and beleaguered Fulham, and have a greatly inflated cable TV bill to prove it, but today I was stuck in a meeting over in the city while Fulham were playing live on TV. Normally I would have rushed home in a frenzy to find out how they'd done (i.e., how badly they'd lost), but somehow I managed to forget all about it until after midnight tonight (and lo and behold, they'd WON, the first time in almost forever).

And why was that? Super Bowl Sunday, I guess. It was my first Super Bowl in at least ten, maybe 15 years, and my first since the 80s where a local team was playing. And while I'd never had much in the way of feelings, good or bad, for the New York Giants, I'm a fan now. I'm even willing to consider the possibility that Manning's desperate scramble and subsequent pass to David Tyree, who caught it between the hands of a New England defender and managed to miraculously wrestle the ball to the ground without losing his grip, might outrank that heady moment when Dwight Clark put the 49ers in the Super Bowl and me almost through a plate glass window. All the pointless stoppages of play and commercial breaks notwithstanding, this was one exciting game.

And the Giants? They got by on sheer grit and stamina, a greater desire to win, and a fair bit of talent as well. All qualities to be admired in an underdog, and I'm feeling very pleased I had the good sense to move to a city blessed with a team so worthy of rooting for. Congratulations to all the Giants fans who stuck with them through the many lean years, and please don't hate me because I'm an obvious glory hunter.

Oh, and I see 327 Dave, erm, Professor 327 Dave, that is, had a bet on the Giants, at 5-1, to score first via a field goal. Which they proceeded to do. Who says there's no money in philosophy?


Kendra K. said...

Larry, I think the Giants bandwagon is reaching critical mass.

And it's always open season on glory hunters initially. If you're still supporting the Giants in a few years, then it's OK.

P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
marc said...

"Who says there's no money in philosophy?" - They tell about Thales, the founder of Greek philosophy, that he once knew that the harvest of the year would be good. So he bought all the olive presses and made a lot of money. Wikipedia tells us: "Another version of this same story states that he bought the presses not to become wealthy, but merely to demonstrate to his fellow Milesians that he could use his intelligence to enrich himself."