Saturday, January 31, 2004

The Big Game

About 6 years ago I made a deliberate trip to a bookstore on Superbowl Sunday. I claimed to be in search of intelligent life, figuring if there were romantic possibilities lurking about the greater metropolitan Denver area (where I was living at the time), they might best be discovered during this crucial moment of unbridled American machismo. Basically, it occurred to me that anyone away from the TV at that moment (especially one whose alternate locale was the bookstore—Tattered Cover—a thriving independent bookstore, at that) was someone worth getting to know.

Oh, the idealism of youth. The self-righteousness, perhaps(?).

I didn’t meet anyone interesting that day. And anyway, how much more worthy was my cause? Instead of being in the bookstore seeking to expand my web of knowledge, I was in there on the make! What a phony baloney. (I’m reminded of a book I saw the other day called When God Winks on Love, subtitled Let the Power of Coincidence Lead You to Love. All I could think was this hypothetical testimonial from readers-turned-devotees to the author’s cause: “The coincidence I masterminded worked out beautifully.” Ridiculous.)

I know what part of my problem was at the time: I had just returned to the States from an extended stay in Mexico, where my new awareness of sub-par living conditions greatly soured my outlook on American wastefulness and decadent self-indulgence. To me, the Superbowl and everything that touched it was evidence of a spoiled rotten population with too much time on its hands and its priorities way, way off-base.

And I still feel that way sometimes. And I don’t plan to watch tomorrow’s game or wager any money on it or even bother to check the score in the next day’s newspaper. But that’s mainly because the Raiders aren’t playing this year (and that’s assuming I’m kind enough to term what they did last year “playing.” Other words that came to mind are “floundering,” [are you guys] “kidding?!,” and, simply, “Sad. So sad.”). It’s not that I care particularly about football (certainly not in the way I care about baseball, not in the way I have elaborate fantasies about meeting the Dodgers’ Paul LoDuca), but I am no longer opposed to the idea of sitting down for an afternoon and enjoying the be-all, end-all, American sporting Super Event.

Please indulge my desire to share a few reasons for the change of heart.

I’ve thought a lot in recent years about the Superbowl in relation to the World Cup. I happened to be in Mexico when the World Cup was here in the United States, and I was struck by the serious devotion to fĂștbol (soccer) I found among the people there. One day when Mexico was playing Germany (causing me, in my mixed-raced Beanerschnitzel-ness, great inner-conflict), I noticed that the town where I was staying was teeming with young people who would otherwise have been studying at the time. I stopped a young boy and asked, “Why aren’t you all in school? Is there some sort of holiday or something?” to which he answered, “Mexico’s playing,” with a look on his face that said precisely, ‘Like, duh.’

My friend Kelsi was somewhat disgusted by this fanaticism, sparking a great debate between us. I surprised myself by presenting the argument that soccer, while not being the most intellectual of pursuits, was a wonderfully unifying activity. It was the only thing I could think of that so great a percentage of people worldwide took very seriously and agreed upon: The importance of the sport’s outcomes are agreed upon. The rules are agreed upon. That grown men should put their machismo on hold, flop, and cry to their heart’s content if it means drawing the attention of the ref and, ultimately, a yellow card, is absolutely agreed upon.

To me soccer is the innocuous version of war. (Excepting, of course, the unfortunate incidents of murder and mass-suffocation that have resulted from the games more fervent, more overzealous elements—to everything, there are extremes). Countries from all over the world come together once every four years and settle their scores in a forum where the laws are set, the game is timed (though loosely sometimes), and everyone has the chance to cover his privates before any serious damage can be done. Why can’t men always play by the rules in this way?

American football is just a microcosm of this worldwide phenomenon. It’s a less-exciting, heavily padded, far-too-oft-stalled version of soccer, but a version all the same. Black Hole Raider fans excluded, grown men come together to play or to cheer for their favorite teams in a normal, healthy way. We need not kill each other to prove our superiority. Why not just run faster, block better, or have a person on our team whose precise aim and strong “gun” means an extra six points rather than an extra person dead?

And there’s another thing. In all my former pooh-poohing of the Big Game, what I had neglected to consider were the humans who comprised the teams. I had forgotten that, behind every facemask and (behind that) every snarl of threat and audible declaration of dominance, is a man with a dream—a man who has, no doubt, been working day after day and year after year for the chance to be, in this exact moment, on this very field. Who am I to criticize that? Put aside the announcers, the commercials, the millions of dollars exchanging hands, and you’ve got about 100 men who are about to experience the best goddamned day of their lives. And yeah, I support that.

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