In the midst of all the usual dismaying news about ‘recreational” racial murders (black on white, lately), the specter of yet ANOTHER miserable Middle East war looming (why do we insist on getting involved in these tribal hazings??), and the latest implosion of “conservatism” as Boehner and others in the Republican party continue to play unseemly footsie with the Emperor – er, President, there is one little pinpoint of bright light shining.
NFL Football!! No matter your politics, religion or ethnicity, this annual extravaganza of brute force, ballet-like agility and strategic planning that would shame the Joint Chiefs in it’s sheer complexity, is one of our great national treasures, enjoyed by huge numbers of Americans. Personally, I’m so happy for a diversion from the depressing daily news and impending sense that our country is not just slipping away, but rather running headlong into oblivion. Pass the bratwursts, please.
Every fall, a brand new football season arrives in my living room to alleviate the doldrums of societal decay and tiresome political chicanery. It is delivered all shiny and clean, with new hope for rising teams, fresh talent on rosters brimming with promise, and a clean slate for every team seeking redemption. What could be better?
Coaching changes, player cuts, free agent arrivals and departures, player statistics, trades and the advent of enticing draft choices stoke the fires not only of fantasy football leagues but barbeque grills all across America. Peyton has more weapons in Denver this year, and launched his season loudly by launching a record seven touchdown passes in the opening victory over the defending SuperBowl champion Ravens. Nobody could have written a better script for the season’s first contest.
The perennial contender Patriots barely squeaked out a last second win over a surprisingly resilient Buffalo team that none of the pundits thought would remain within four touchdowns of New England. The abundance of unproven new receivers on Brady’s offense proved to be a huge liability for the team. That is, except for Danny Amendola, who turned in a Herculean performance with several highlight film catches.
As I type this, Green Bay and San Francisco are enjoined in a blood feud that is electrifying to watch. I can’t remember when I saw playoff caliber football like this in Week One of regular season play. The Saints managed to down divisional nemesis Atlanta, and new teams are rising to replace old champions whose dominance is fading, for now.
Perhaps we love football because it is the best allegory for warfare, without the casualties. It is a violent land acquisition game. It involves ground troops fighting “in the trenches”. There are advances and retreats, flanking maneuvers and aerial strikes. There is even artillery portrayed in the kicking game, where long-range accuracy is vital to game outcomes, and surgically placed punts play key roles in game strategy. Mobility is crucial, as are flexibility, deception and detection. Like field officers, quarterbacks and middle linebackers alike need to be able to recognize what the other side is going to do, while obscuring their own plan of attack from being deciphered. Coaches and players spend hours each week reviewing film (intel) of their opponents to find patterns, strengths to neutralize and weaknesses to exploit.
As in actual warfare, the element of surprise is paramount in football. Even factors like resilience play an important role in the final outcome. An outnumbered platoon who can tenaciously hold their position against a superior enemy force can often prevail, winning by attrition when the attackers fail to advance. Coaches often use critical clock management at the end of games to allow their tired team just enough leverage to hold off an opponent who has seized momentum and is threatening the outcome.
I guess if I had one wish this year, it would be that the politicians preparing to enmesh America in another Arab conflict would instead choose the football allegory to satisfy their cravings for conflict, and leave our thinly-spread fighting men and women out of it. That’s something we could all root for.
Image: source: http://www.dvidshub.net/image/777200/adm-greenert-steelers-versus-giants-game#.UQ2eIWdHo1B; author: Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Lawlor; public domain