Monday, September 10, 2007

The gridiron disease

There is something downright spiritual about football that doesn't exist in other sports.

It isn't ethereal. That lofty aim belongs to baseball, my first and longest-lasting love. But it's different somehow, special, tough --- and a whole lot of fun.

Thought I'd had enough last night. Somewhere amid that wonderful, crazy air attack that was the Dallas/New York Giants game, I turned the TV off, took a painkiller and went to bed. Headache. Kidney ache. Kind of depressed anyway.

Started out the day at the Meadowlands. Wanted to root for former Halls guy Chad Pennington, that big blonde-headed dude who reminds me so much of his mother, and the New York Jets. Chad's boys suited up against those hated Patriots of New England.

New York fans, if this is possible, achieved a new low, though. They booed my boy as he hobbled, injured, off the field. I used to think Philadelphia fans exhibited the worst sportsmanship in sport. Nope.

I'm not just saying this 'cause I knew Chad when he was just Andrea Pennington's older brother. You should be ashamed of yourself, Jets fans. Mighty ashamed. But, then again, that would require having character and it's obvious you don't have any.

After that amazing, infuriating Tom Brady put that game away, I flipped over to our nation's capital, where the Redskins and Dolphins locked horns in one exciting battle. This one came down to an overtime field goal. Exciting. Nervous. Lots of fun. Joe Gibbs (God, is he still around?) shaking hands. Smiles amid the sea of red and gold.

J.M. kept wanting to check on the Atlanta Falcons. The greatness that isn't Joey Harrington lived up to his reputation. That guy sucks. Pretty much all you can say.

I sure don't miss Vick. He's getting his, and then some. But I bet the Falcons wish he'd never heard of dogfighting. It's going to be a long season in Fulton County.

In the afternoon, the underdog in me rooted for the hapless Detroit Lions, as they braved the insanity that is playing the Oakland Raiders on the road. QB Jon Kitna and the most talented wide receivers in the league put on quite a show.

The defense, and a couple of turnovers, blew a 17-0 lead. But the Lions showed guts. The took advantage of a couple of Raider miscues and won comfortably.

Detroit hasn't won a championship since 1957. They won't win one this year. But maybe, just maybe, this could be the start of better times on the Motown gridiron.

Tonight I'm going to hobble in front of the TV, curl up in my Big Orange blanket, forget about the kidneys and watch two (count 'em) Monday night games. Don't really care about any of the teams, so this will just be for love of the game.

Here in the South, where we manage to turn everything into an allegory, football means everything from how a boy becomes a man to defining a way of life. I'm reading Buzz Bissinger's masterpiece, "Friday Night Lights," about high school football in Texas. It's the same out there.

Funny thing, though. Bissinger finds much to indict about our football-obsessed culture. How the athletes can't seem to make it away from those bright stadium lights. How nothing, especially not academics, matters as much as the big show on Friday nights. At least until high school is over and you have to figure out how to survive. Often that means sweating in the hot Odessa sun, breaking your back in the oil fields.

And yet, Buzz finds much to love about this culture, too; how Permian football defines a town, gives meaning to bleak lives, offers an escape for the talented few.

Here in Knox Vegas, I get tired of the constant chatter about the Big Orange. Flip on the radio here in April. Nobody's talking about the Braves and Yankees. No, talk centers on whether Erik Ainge is going to play in the spring game, what the defensive scheme will be against Florida's spread offense, and whether Fulmer deserves his contract extension. Yada, yada, yada.

It gets old. And yet, last Saturday night when I felt so bad I could barely walk, a friend picked me up and carted me over to his mom and dad's house so I could root, root, root for the home team against Southern Miss.

It's a disease, I guess. My daddy instilled a love for the game in my little torso beginning in 1984, when I sat in Section NN and ate my Cracker Jacks while the Vols beat Utah.

I don't know that it really means much in the grand scheme of things.

But there it is. Give me the gentleman coach in the suit and tie, three yards and a cloud of dust, a crushing defense and solid special teams. Like so much of the things I love, though, that era is gone with the wind, replaced by more exciting but less pure short-sleeved shirts and visors, spread offenses, pass on every down, go for it on fourth and 15.

I keep telling myself it's just a game. Then I see how others, including myself, react to it and wonder if that's even the truth.

Hell, I've got friends distraught over the misfortune of their fantasy teams. Maybe I'll just turn ESPN off tonight and pick up a book.

But what would that accomplish? The book would be "Friday Night Lights."

Whatever. I give up.

Are you ready for some football?

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