One autumn Sunday my brother tuned in to watch the game.
When a “Law and Order” rerun came on instead of cheerleaders, pickup truck commercials and mayhem, he turned to his wife, Sue, who was reading the newspaper, and asked, “Why do you think they’d cancel the game?”
Sue looked around the side of her paper and said, “For stupidity?”
For some, today’s game is not important enough to even proclaim the whole thing as stupid. A friend of mine was once on a business trip the week before the Roman Numeral Game in one of those Florida cities whose sole purpose is to host Super Bowls and Shriners conventions.
When I asked her how the scene, the atmosphere, the hype was, she replied she was only vaguely aware of it. “It was like bad background music I could tune out.”
You have to respect someone like that.
I’m a fan and I’ll be watching today. I’ve loved football since I played the game in high school. I’ve been known, along with teammates decades after we last suited up, to start moving furniture around into the 4-3 defense.
This usually happens late at night. Those are the times we forget what a perfectly abysmal team we were.
Our coach, Joe “Moon” Baxter, knew what sort of team he had but was not a snarling martinet like many creeps seen patrolling sidelines. Once he called us into a circle surrounding him at practice and began his instructions by saying, in his Ozarks drawl, “Well, boys, we ain’t real big. But we sure are slow.”
The Super Bowl, like most sports these days, has become much more than a game. As Reporter columnist Robert Lipsyte, America’s closest observer of the number sports has done (and continues to do) on our culture, observed in his brilliant memoir, An Accidental Sportswriter, “Now that sports has lost almost all of its moral cachet and is accepted as a branch of the entertainment industry, the customers seem to want the same rigorous scandalmongering that music and politics enjoy.”
Witness President Trump and his race baiting of NFL players and castigating the league for instituting rules and equipment to protect players.
The latter strikes the ex-president, it seems, as being un-manly. Or something.
Coach Moon was not much of a communicator, although he tried. He once — in a circle again on the practice field — tried to give us tips on a healthy diet. “Boys, you are ath-a-letes, and y’all got to start eatin’ like ath-a-letes. Eat something right, instead of those ole greasy cokes and carbonated hamburgers.”
We all nodded, holding in the laughter the way blimps hold helium.
Those volatile sideline stalkers called coaches say football is supposed to teach you things: courage, reliance on teammates, having a goal and sacrificing all to achieve it, how to drive through pain, etc.
Kind of like being an Army Ranger.
But Coach Moon once taught us an essential lesson after we were assaulted — and not just on the scoreboard — at an away game.
The final score was 72-0, but it wasn’t that close. I remember lining up across from a guy who looked like he’d been working in a steel mill the past 10 years after he got out of prison.
“I’m going to beat your brains out all night,” he greeted me.
True to his word. And I wasn’t the only one. On the silent bus ride home we had the thousand-yard stares of tornado survivors.
Coach Moon took a spot in the aisle in the middle of the bus. He told us he was proud of us and that from every defeat there is something positive to take away.
“I know we feel like we fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, but I got the stat sheet here, boys,” he waved his clipboard, “and I’ll be danged if we didn’t make more first downs than those other boys. Now that’s something.”
Just as we were thinking that Coach Moon was right, there was something positive we could take away, someone mentioned, after our leader walked back to his seat behind the driver, “Hell, yes, we had more first downs. They didn’t need first downs. Every time they touched the ball they scored. Kickoffs, punt returns, first plays from scrimmage. Every time.”
Lesson: Don’t buy the hype, stay allergic to spin. When it seems really bad, it is.
Enjoy the day, the game, and the great American mid-winter festival today.