If indeed there are aliens in spaceships visiting our planet, what might they think as they hover over America on Saturday and Sunday afternoons?
They would certainly observe numerous gatherings of 80,000 to 100,000 earthlings packed into stadiums screaming, shouting and waving as some other larger, armor-clad beings run around on the field and hit each other. At the very least, they would have to assume that whatever is going on down there is of great importance to the earthlings.
Football is basically civilized war. The language itself is evidence of that. A blitz comes from the blitzkrieg bombing of London in World War II. The bomb signifies a long pass. The game is won in the trenches from trench warfare in World War I. An end-around comes from a WWII submarine maneuvering tactic. The quarterback is the field general. Coaches often urge their players to get tough, battle and fight out there. This is war they proclaim. Our service academies all embrace the game with a fervor unmatched by other colleges, except, of course, for the SEC (Southeastern Conference). Professional and big-time college football budgets do bear resemblance to our nation’s military budget.
Our brand of football is a uniquely American game that has had a slower spread globally than other American sport inventions. Cue sentimental music: In baseball, the object is to go home and be safe. (George Carlin) In basketball, it is to make a basket. Cue ominous music: Football’s objective is to violently get into the end zone and score a touchdown.
Author, commentator and columnist George Will’s quote sums the game up very well: “Football combines the worst of American society: violence punctuated by committee meetings.”
We are attracted to watching violence. There is a rubbernecking component in all of us. Rubbernecking is a term used to describe a slowdown in traffic because of drivers wanting to catch a glimpse of the accident as they drive by. We can’t help it. If it bleeds, it leads.
Early college football was brutal. Helmetless players used a V-like formation called the flying wedge (another term of military origin) in which players locked arms as they ran down the field. It was outlawed in the 1890s as being too violent even for then. In 1905, The Chicago Tribune reported 19 deaths in college football. Thankfully, Teddy Roosevelt got involved and the game was changed.
The forward pass was legalized. A forward pass is one of the embodiments of anticipation in sport. Will it be caught, incomplete or intercepted? Certainly, it is more inspiring than watching ketchup slowly emerge from the bottle to the tune of Carly Simon’s “Anticipation.”
There is beauty in the game. The athleticism and often ballet like movements are stunning. I have never had nor understood the fascination of watching superhero movies. The beauty and amazing feats of human movement and the rest of the animal kingdom are more than enough for me. And truly good teamwork is a marvel to behold.
I do watch football, and I struggle with my own hypocrisy. I am condoning football, while knowing the evidence for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and brain injury. So far, I have rationalized it by acknowledging that professionals are well-paid adults who choose to do so, and by agreeing with youth football restrictions.
I am human, an American and a rubbernecker. And it is a better alternative to real war. Go Broncos.