As the ides of August and the increasing trill of crickets hail the impending end of another summer, we issue a collective sigh of resignation. Summer represents the idyllic days of enforced idleness, at least for a week or two and hopefully each weekend.
Yet we are embroiled in another relentless national election cycle with the stakes alarmingly high, not to mention the acrimony between divergent parties. The Middle East is once again ablaze with unrest, commingled with the sounds of gunfire. The old regime in Russia is threatening to make a full comeback, and the Chinese hold the mortgage on our economy for the next three decades at least. Murderous shootings have dominated the headlines, along with skyrocketing food and fuel prices, drought, heat waves and fatal power outages.
For the kids, mid-August is the beginning of back-to-school preparation, so their angst is rising as they strive to extract the last days of leisurely enjoyment from the waning vacation season. What should be a time of relaxation and recreation is now accelerating towards autumn like the space shuttle upon reentry.
Fortunately, there is one bright light amidst the dog days of August. The stultifying air is at once filled with the grunts of enormous men colliding, while the shrill chirp of whistles drowns out the bucolic chirring of cicadas. Verbal cadences lance the air as signals are called out, followed by swift footsteps of pursuers and the pursued. Football season approaches! Hooray!! It’s time to set aside the overheated lethargy of August and begin to evaluate the trades, draft choices, lineups and schedules, now that the monsters of the gridiron have finally retaken the practice field. Never has such a tasty diversion as football been so welcome as at this moment of political brickbats and global gloom.
What our country has needed for at least a month is a collective mental enema. We’ve been bombarded daily with mudslinging and propaganda, with manufactured class, sexual and racial divisiveness, until we fear to turn on the television or read a newspaper. Into the midst of all this depressing gloom bounces oblong pigskin filled with air, followed by twenty-two overdeveloped men in colorful armor jockeying for possession of it. There can be no finer interruption to all this negativity than the engrossing contemplation of a new football season.
You don’t have to understand Xs and Os to enjoy what professional football has to offer. The pageantry, the enormous pomp and production of the sport is a celebration in itself. It is a culture, replete with its own special foods, language, customs and holidays, attire and tribal rivalries. Product advertisers build their entire year’s campaigns around enticing the football crowd, with everything from pickup trucks to potato chips. Countless viewers tune in to the Superbowl every year just to watch and rate the new commercials!
The millions of words of analysis that will proliferate before, during and after the season make it an event on the scale with any major holiday, and much longer in duration. Game results, coaching decisions, playbook strategies and player highlight films will be broken down into their finest possible nuances. Every potential game factor will be exposed to scrutiny that would make a microbiologist blush.
So significant is football’s impact on our national psyche that a friend of mine has referred to the day after the Superbowl as the beginning of “the Dark Time” every year. There is a palpable letdown when the National Football League finally shuts the lights off and locks the door at the end of each season.
For the next six months, we thankfully have a much-needed national diversion to relieve us from the pressure and mental anxiety that at present levels is rivaling the fears and uncertainty immediately preceding World War II and the Cold War. What diversions did those generations have to allay or at least temporarily banish the ominous storm clouds on their horizon?
In the heat of a vicious mid-August presidential battle set against a backdrop of global threats and recession……..we have football.
Somehow, things look a little bit brighter already.