Football and Past Times

i watched a replay for as long as i could stand last night. It was Vandy getting clobbered by Kentucky in Lexington. Football.

i made it all the way to halfway through or so in the second quarter when i began to fast forward through all but the plays. In other words, i was watching the action only, about twenty percent of the broadcast. My modus operandi now is to tape all sports contests, don’t check the scores, then watch the replay, beginning about forty-five minutes after the actual beginning. That way, i can fast forward through the commercials and the half-time bozo show of shouting “experts” and end up pretty much right on time at the end. Then when an athletic contest becomes one-sided or boring or both, i will simply turn it off, check the score real-time, and if there has been a turnaround and the contest is close, i will return to the taped version.

i didn’t return to the Commodore-Wildcat thrashing (44-21).

But while i was watching, a thought kept coming to my pocket of resistance brain. Several times, a Kentucky player was penalized for an offense, obviously guilty, some unsportsmanlike offense even by today standards — when i played all of the shenanigans of showing off, bashing your opponent, etc. was unsportsmanlike; now, it’s cool — and i noticed the UK fans were booing, not the player who had committed the foul where even the attendees could see, not just the beat-your-brain-to-numbness replays on the telly. No, the fans were booing the official for calling the penalty.

This is not a knock of the Kentucky fans per se. Had it been at Vanderbilt and a Commodore had committed the infraction, the few faithful VU fans would have behaved in the same way the UK fans did. In fact, it would be true at every football game and most sports with maybe the exception of tennis and definitely not in golf.

All of this got me to thinking, sometimes a dangerous business. Football fans (and others) appear to have channeled the Roman gladiator games. They want blood. They come to see blood. They dress up in really silly and ugly outfits to celebrate the possibility of blood. They beat their fists on the stadium structures, stomp the stadium floor with their feet, turn red in the face, and possibly even froth at the mouth with the anticipation of witnessing blood.

No, it certainly isn’t quite as bad as the Romans slaying each other and cheering about it. But it’s close. There have even been instances of thousands and thousands of fans cheering an opponent getting injured.

Today, there is an informal boycott of NFL games by people who are upset with the players not showing respect for the National Anthem, the symbol like it or not, of our constitution. They have some legitimate complaints about racial profiling and the unfairness of our government officials in racial matters, perhaps our population in general. i can’t speak for them. i am not too wound up about the boycott either way except as i have written earlier.

But i don’t watch the NFL games anyway. i watched the Chargers while they were in San Diego. After all, my background includes a lot of the three major sports and more, and i wrote about them extensively. When the Chargers left, my interest disappeared. Oh, i still might watch a series of plays just to see the athleticism. Or i might watch the end of a contest i happened upon during surfing if the final score is in doubt. But that’s it.

i have gone to four NFL games since birth. The last one was to accompany Maureen hosting a couple, the wife a client of hers and the husband a big fan. That was 1996 or 1997. i didn’t attend anymore because between all of the idiocy on the field and in the stands and the interminable dead time for television commercials, it was boring.

They are working real hard to make the college game just as boring.


Seems like old times.

i will still watch colleges games of interest to me, but other than that, i think i will pass. i love the memories of sitting on the hill of the open end of Neyland Stadium watching the Vols in their high-top shoes white pants and helmets and orange jerseys long before fans decided to wear orange — Why? As a football uniform, the old ones were cool. But the color is ugly. Flat ugly except on football uniforms. And unless i’m mistaken, about 98.8 percent of the fans didn’t play football. They bought that ugly regalia for upwards of fifty dollars. Same can be said of pretty much all college teams.

But sitting up there on that hill or in the end zone bleachers and watching the Canale brothers do their thing from the single wing  on a sun-drenched autumn afternoon awash in earth tones was magic, just magic. And it was that way at Vanderbilt’s memorial stadium when i watched Phil “The Chief” King shred defenses on yet another kick-off or punt return. Magic. Or at Castle Heights on that beautiful field later named Stroud Gwynn and now gone with some edifice of finance taking its place. Grey uniforms, maroon and gold football uniforms (oh, i thought those old gold pants were so cool they even felt cool), girls in dresses and coats and mums, the band playing the fight song, the crispness of the air, the smell in the air. And Lebanon High, my unfilled dream, somewhat mollified by watching my classmates in the cool, even cold of the Friday night autumns around Middle Tennessee because George and Virginia Harding would take me to the away games during that undefeated season (and earlier, not so good seasons) and the blue and white would march up and down and i would cheer, not just the team but the individuals who were my friends, and the cheerleaders in their bobby socks and black and white oxfords and the felt-skirts, women who i loved from afar. Magic. Magic i wish i could relive.

Today’s folks seem to thrive on what has replaced it: some homage to coaches being more important than the players, technology, statistics, unsportsmanlike conduct, trash talk. Playing the game is no longer playing the game.

And then there are all of the political correctness about names. Nick Canepa, the elder statesman of sports journalism in San Diego wrote an insightful and funny column today in the sports section of The San Diego Union-Tribune. The San Diego State University “University Senate,” some conglomeration of students and faculty voted last week to get rid of the Aztec Warrior, a mascot of the athletic teams. They also formed a task force for addressing the “appropriateness” of the Aztec’s nickname. Sad. i’ll let you read his column,, if you are so inclined. i think he makes a number of good points humorously.

This political correct incorrectness and the witch hunting, devil detecting, moral turpitude digging currently engulfing our country and most of the world reminds me of another era. It may not look like it, but the judges of others, certainly not themselves, in their conduct of moral or immoral behavior was quite the thing in the Victorian Era. Oh, it was decidedly different because such policing of moral conduct was by a strict code and supposedly was for everyone everywhere. Now, the code…well, it isn’t a code. It’s sort of an individual or group’s personal interpretation of what others do that’s wrong by their standards that mushrooms into some sort of national crisis of reprehension, fueled by the media (again, both sides; but i get tired of writing i’m referring to both sides to ensure someone doesn’t think i’m taking sides).

It’s a straight path to wrong just like it was in the mid to late 1800’s. Even the NFL, which i no longer watch, is trying to police its players for moral uprightness while the owners are some of the most morally vacant folks around. Crazy.

i loved football. i loved to practice. i loved to hit people. i loved to run with abandon. i loved playing the game with sportsmanship as its backbone. Sure there was some guys who played to win including sucker punches, cheating when they didn’t think the ref was watching, employing one-upmanship on the opponents, showing off. But my joy included knocking the crap out of a runner or a defender, then helping them up, or them knocking me down and helping me up. Scoring a touchdown (very few for me) and giving the umpire the ball and running to the sideline, not celebrating in some infantile fashion because it would draw a penalty back then. Shaking hands, win or lose, with the other team and meaning it. Making decisions on the field of play because the coaches had taught me how, not turning to the sideline for the coach to tell me what to do. To play offense and defense and special teams (although they didn’t call it that back then) because it was a team sport, not some specialty, and, by the way, it required more endurance than it does now. It was not, not a game limited to behemoth, freak enormous athletic bodies trying to maim the opponent. It was a joy, a pleasure. i cried after i played what i knew would be my last game. A part of me had passed. i wouldn’t recommend it for any child or youth today. But boy, did i love it.

You know i was never a fan of the Roman gladiator period. Thought it was right stupid, not to mention cruelty of the extreme. i also don’t think highly of the Victorian period moral police.

i think we need a lot more of individuals concerning themselves with personally doing the right thing today, not entertaining themselves with cheating violence or looking for evil in people with whom they don’t happen to agree.

But then, i am old and perhaps my ideas are just as obsolete as the Romans and the Victorians.


1 thought on “Football and Past Times

  1. I reached my level of toleration yesterday with NCAAF too. The gents of the game are gone, save one or two I can name. Antonio Gates and probably Ladainion Thomlinson, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Great critique of our beloved pastimes lost to the unending supply of deep pockets.

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