One of the great things about covering major league baseball is waking up when it’s all over and discovering that the football season is almost half over.
Football has outlived its usefulness. It’s too bad that Teddy Roosevelt didn’t go all the way back around 1906 and succeed in having the sport outlawed. Instead, he settled for the legalization of the forward pass, without which you never would have heard of Mike Taliaferro.
We don’t even need football to fill out the sporting calendar. Once upon a time, the fall was reserved for football. This was before television and the city of Los Angeles discovered baseball and Bob Cousy invented basketball. Now the discerning sports fan can slide smoothly from baseball to basketball (or Hockey, if you prefer) without passing Go or Harvard Stadium, or without collecting the $200. A classic case in point was Yours Truly, who stepped off the plane from New York City and the World Series on Wednesday at 1 p.m. and eagerly flipped on the TV that night to watch the Celtics’ inaugural.
I’ll bet a lot of you ex-Chelsea High linemen are muttering, “I’ll bet this bum was afraid to play football. One of those arty types.” You’re right. I was afraid to play football, preferring to save my limbs for more genteel pursuits like baseball or basketball. Anyway, colliding never really appealed to me as a recreational pursuit. But, honest, gang, I’m really not the arty type.
Football, to be blunt, is barbaric. In none of our other conventional sports is the concept of “punishing” someone central to the conduct of the game. There are varying degrees of violence in both the NBA and the NHL, of course, but both basketball and hockey can be conducted without the chippy activities that now characterize them on the professional level.
I long ago decided that if I had a son who expressed interest in playing either football or hockey that I would take a seven iron and smash him in the (a) knees and (b) teeth. “There,” I would say, “is the bad knee you would have gotten from football and the dental work you would have needed from hockey. Is there anything else I can do for you?” Now that such a son exists, however, I must confess that I am in favor of more subtle means of persuasion.
Is there something wrong with me if I simply can’t accept the assumption that if you are a football player you are expected to play with a serious injury? The old Lombardi bit about “If you can stand, you can walk ... if you can walk, you can play, etc.” is an abomination, or haven’t you ever heard of Dick Butkus? He played so much when he shouldn’t have that today he is literally a cripple. I’m sure he probably played some of his best games in severe pain, for which he should not be commended. He should be committed.
It must be great rooting for an NFL team. Each week 7, 11 or 18 of your favorite players get carried off the field, thus giving the 11th-round draft choice from Eastern Montana Tech a chance to get his very own limp. The best team seldom wins. The winner is the club that most faithfully reconstructs its July depth chart.
This assumes that there are any legitimate football fans left. If football isn’t the national sport, then betting on it is. You should have seen the Dodger Stadium press box last Sunday afternoon during Game Five of the World Series. I had the misfortune to be sitting next to a bettor. For two days we had discussed baseball and other assorted topics of interest, but when Sunday came he showed up with his little transistor, and it wasn’t so he could listen to Win Elliot, either. He was listening to the Rams game.
Soon the other betting junkies were hovering around. One stood with his back to the field listening to the radio for approximately the last five innings. Another leaned over me and placed his head on the radio itself for prolonged periods, as if to somehow transmit winning thoughts through the radio. When the announcer failed to give enough out-of-town scores, one of them screamed, “Quick! Get an all-news station. They’ll have the scores!”
I am not naive enough to believe that football will soon die, although I certainly wish it would. But to any young athlete pondering football as an autumn diversion, I would pose the following questions: Are you equally fond of another sport? Do you, in fact, like another sport better? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then playing football is absolutely asinine. The odds are that you will live to regret ever having heard of football.
Just once I would like to hear someone who has chosen football as his favorite sport explain to me how he can do so when there are other sports with far more grace, suspense and action. Perhaps I’m the one who’s missing something, but if I want to watch large objects smashing into each other, I’ll go to the next demolition derby.