It’s been a long time now since I’ve been able to think of myself as being a fan when it comes to football. At any given moment I’m pretty much in the dark about how things are going. I know the New York teams stink. I’m tired of the Patriots winning all the time. That’s about it.
There are several reasons for this waning interest. Though the game is played at an unparalleled level of athleticism and expertise, it just doesn’t seem as interesting as it used to. And celebrations, not just for scores but for any play beyond the norm, seem excessive. At one time a touchdown was celebrated by handing the ball to the ref, the way of acknowledging accomplishment was modesty, but times have changed. I understand that it’s looked at differently, that it’s reinforced by video games and having your picture on Madden and things like that. And the fantasy stuff, which is beyond me.
Then there’s the major culprit, which is that the game can’t be played safely, that the toll it takes on those who play includes shortened life spans and mental and physical crippling. In a recent column by Gracie Bonds Staples, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, about the retirement of Andrew Luck from the Indianapolis Colts and the criticism heaped upon him for it, the observation was made that fans don’t think of players as human beings but as commodities. Why would you want to participate in something like that?
I heard not so long ago on sports talk radio something to the effect that the NFL faced inevitable decline, because parents would no longer want their kids participating in so risky a sport, with the consequences of concussions and other destructive elements at play, and that the talent pool would eventually dry up, but there’s reason to be skeptical about that. In England there’s a relatively new stadium with a field that transforms from a soccer pitch for the Tottenham Hotspur to an NFL playing field, and back again. The league intends to expand, not contract.
But how do you reconcile these opposing elements, that are remindful of Roman gladiator days? Years ago I observed that it entails maintaining an increasingly uneasy truce with myself.
That hasn’t gotten any easier, and the temptation is to give it up entirely, but then a week like the last week comes along and it makes you wonder.
I played football in high school, and loved just about every minute of it (the part where I got a concussion wasn’t so great). My teammates were like a brotherhood, and even today, decades later, were I to run into one of them there would be hugs. It’s just the way it is.
So that perspective warms the heart when a team like the Sheehan High Titans surrenders two touchdowns before the last note of the national anthem has stopped ringing, but then goes on to win by a whopping score of 64-33 against a defending champion to win a state championship. It’s all the more special because it’s rare. It’s only the second time Sheehan has won a state championship, ever.
“There are guys on this football team who don’t show up a lot on the stat line, but have such an impact on everything we do,” said head coach John Ferrazzi.
This is what I mean about teammates. Years later they won’t remember so much about who scored but that they were side by side.
And then there’s Newtown. On the seventh anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the town’s high school team won a state championship. It completed an undefeated season and it was achieved, remarkably, on the very last play with a touchdown pass.
Reporting on this required a delicate balance of perspective. “Reporters were warned in advance not to ask players about the tragedy, in which a gunman killed 20 students and six educators on Dec. 14, 2012,” wrote Pat Eaton-Robb, of the Associated Press. That, and other accounts, made it to newspapers and media outlets across the nation.
“It’s always so difficult to explain what it feels like to hold grief in your heart while celebrating these special moments,” Tricia Pinto said. Her son, Ben, is on the championship team. His brother, Jack, was killed in the massacre.
As the AP story noted, “football has been a part of the Pinto family’s healing process since the shooting. Jack Pinto was buried in the jersey of his favorite player, New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz, who later came to the family’s home, visiting and playing video games with Ben and his friends.”
In light of such stories, I can’t expect my uneasy truce with the game to be called off any time soon.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.