By Jason Keidel
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You’re not hearing things, because I hear it, too…
The slow, simmering orchestra, swelling from mind to ear, making sense of Sam Spence’s music, a random clip of Joe Kapp or Bart Starr marching his team down the dirt of a dusty stadium, to the trumpets of NFL Films, violins and the deep boom of John Facenda, the baritone bard of pro football.
Maybe the hair spikes on your arms too when you recall the slow-mo replays of mud-clad Paul Hornung running the sweep.
Forget the foibles of your favorite team, from injuries free agency to Eli’s foot and mouth over Tom Brady. Everyone has a shot to go from parody to parity in a matter of months. Every season gives a reason for hope, fuel for the Pollyanna, a worst-to-first mantra in the Kurt Warner vein.
There are myriad microcosms of the American Dream, like Warner, who went from bagging groceries to Super Bowl champion. And this is what we love about football: the game isn’t rigged, a red carpet for the rich to trample the poor as many fear baseball has become. Indeed, Sports Illustrated picked Atlanta and San Diego to reach the Super Bowl – two teams with no rings in over 80 combined years of existence.
Perhaps you were born pregnant with a pigskin, as I was, ready and running through the house, dodging chairs and ducking hangers. From sandlots to Prospect Park to Van Cortland Park, football was sporting chic. And like most childhood bonds, the game never left me.
Sure, there were baseball diamonds carved into Central Park, which were little more than doormats and first-down markers stomped and steamrolled by kids playing football, from flag to touch to tackle. Second base to third base often served as the goal line, with each bag representing the width of the field. Football wasn’t just a beautiful game; it was a way to shed life for a few hours, sans politics and posturing. But now the sport has wedged itself into the national psyche.
There’s a certain symbolism to breaking the huddle on the 2011 season on September 11, and your take is valid, no matter what it is. You may think it trivializes the horror ten years ago, or it represents our flowering football, and, by extension, the republic. I’m somewhere in the middle. (I realize there’s a game tonight, but the bulk begins on 9/11, which is no accident.)
Rex Ryan belched some bromides about winning a 9/11 game for New York, while he’s not really a New Yorker and was employed by the Baltimore Ravens on that wretched day. At least his sentiment is sincere, even if you cringe when his large frame crosses the line.
No, a Jets win won’t revive the dead, but perhaps it provides relief. And that’s what we were told to do as the embers churned a mile or so south from where I write this – do your thing, despite the pain.
Football is not for the brooding, highbrow types who see pro athletics as little more than pituitary cases running with a leather oval. These people are to be pitied, because they can’t accept that we’re not like them and thus we must be wrong. Let them do, well, whatever it is males do other than watch the NFL on Sunday. I’m unaware of any other activity worth my time. As in the classic movie, “Diner,” we pick partners who will tolerate this most secular time on the Sabbath.
There’s a beauty to all sports, which is wrought to white heat on fall Sundays. My team beat yours, and thus I beat you. In a most abstract world, we keep score, and thus we trade in the finality of the final score. It’s one of the few things in life that makes sense.
And while baseball is our pastime, and I love it, I’m in love with football. There were two sports played on the island of Manhattan in the 1970s and ‘80s – or at least on my chunk of it – basketball and football. Sure there were some tangential teams with aluminum bats. In my neighborhood they were Goya-sponsored leagues where I would have been the only kid who didn’t speak Spanish. Baseball seemed too complex: an amalgam of people and planning and equipment. It was stickball in the summer, a broom handle and broken windows.
With football we just needed a few boys and a ball. And it carried us through the few, frigid months of the year, when baseball and basketball lay silent until spring. From a practical point of view, football is facile, and when the grass fled after Halloween the dirt became a frosty brown canvas on which we rumbled toward the goal line.
Frankly, I don’t know what my life would be without football. When I unfurl the memories, they are jammed with NFL clips. And the autumn wind was never a Raider in my house. My dad and I winced at the site of Stabler and Plunkett – or any competent QB, for that matter, from Dan Pastorini to Bob Griese to Roger Staubach, all men on whom my Steel Curtain fell for many years.
Most fans share the provincial bond of the home team, and thus most of my friends are either Giants or Jets fans. Since my dad was from Western Pennsylvania, I had the divine fortune of bleeding black & gold. (I took the Yankees over the Pirates, one of the few sound choices I’ve made in life.) Sadly, my team is teeming with anarchy.
Hines Ward, my favorite Steeler since Lynn Swann, took a tangential path this offseason, dancing with stars and a new tango with Johnny Law, getting popped for DUI. Rashard Mendenhall doesn’t know what to say and James Harrison doesn’t know when to shut up. Mendenhall tweeted sympathetic sentiments toward Osama bin Laden, while Harrison saw fit to criticize everyone on Earth but himself, calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a crook, among many unprintable things.
He also called out Mendenhall and the team’s most vital cog, QB Ben Roethlisberger. Lord knows there are few reasons to like Big Ben and even fewer to root for him – and my fandom is limited to the laundry he wears – but you don’t critique your quarterback in public, no matter the season or reason.
And I still live in the infantile denial. The Packers didn’t win that game; my Steelers gave it to them with turnovers, just as Neil O’Donnell gave it to Dallas over a decade ago. In my mind, Pittsburgh should be 8-0 in the Super Bowl. Logic needn’t apply to slavish sporting dedication. And despite the team’s torments, I say at least 11-5 this year. Why not?
So this missive is to you, the man who never quite grew up. I raise my glass to the clusters of couches stuffed with adult males who clear 12 hours for the NFL, life be damned. But there’s a game tonight, and only one question remains…
Are you ready for some football?
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
What’s your take on the bulk of the league kicking off on 9/11? Let Keidel know in the comments below…