Football with its primitive appeal and serious risk provides opportunity

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By Scott Graber

It is Sunday and it is overcast, cold, a good day to be indoors. Fortunately it is Super Bowl Sunday and most of America is already indoors getting themselves ready for an early evening kickoff.

I will be watching but have no allegiance to Kansas City or the Tampa/St Petersburg Metropolitan Area. Yes, I once had a youthful flirtation with Hav-A-Tampa cigars but that quickly gave way to Swisher Sweets.

To make matters worse, I went to a college that rarely won a football game; coming into manhood connecting football with disappointment and shame. I dealt with this pain by avoiding football, especially televised football, knowing full well that I was painting myself into a cultural and conversational Siberia.

At one point, my wife and I ditched television entirely. We decided that it was mostly a wasteland. During this estrangement we took self-righteous satisfaction with our decision, openly contemptuous of our friends who were still hooked-up to the cable.

“No, Daphne, we won’t be watching this weekend.”

“You won’t be watching the Kentucky Derby. Why not?”

“We don’t own a television,” we would say effectively, efficiently ending the conversation.

And so for many years we remained estranged from “Homer Simpson,” “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and from what I call the “Assisted Living Channel” — PBS.

But then our son, Zachary, got work with NBC Sports — Sunday Night Football to be precise. We realized that should we want to talk to him about his work — work involving computer assisted graphics that explain the not-so-obvious nuance associated with the game — we would have to reconnect with our cable provider.

We would have to depart our quiet, Pinot-enhanced Sunday evening meals for Al Michaels and Chris Collingsworth. We would have to sit down and watch grown men, in some place like Buffalo, slam into each other for two hours.

More distressing than this, we would have to listen to pregame and postgame analysis by six large, balding men speaking a language we did not know. And lets not even mention the commercials — mostly the sale of mega trucks bouncing up a mountain or splashing through mud bogs.

But, what the hell, this is all part of parenthood and perhaps it would be less painful if we sampled the burritos, fried wings and the bottomless breadsticks baskets that were advertised as an essential supplement to the game itself. It seemed important to embrace the whole experience.

And so we found ourselves watching televised football.

At first our interest was tepid, my wife occasionally commenting on the bodies of the athletes. I will say — in her defense — she is an artist, and the male torso is well within her professional portfolio.

I, myself, first focused on the effort of one team to anticipate the offensive movement, or the defensive posture, of the other team. There seemed to be a lot of coaches and heavy, headset-accessorized assistants trying to out-think each other.

And yes, there was the inescapable, undeniable thrill when a tailback ran into a huge scrum of flesh and then, as if by magic, emerged from the other side pin-balling his way into the end zone.

And yes, there was the acrobatic pass-catching part that seemed like something out of Cirque du Soleil. Huge men running downfield at full tilt, then turning, somehow grabbing hold of a football moments before being flattened by a man the size of a Volkswagen.

And yes, this hitting, sacking and tackling part that seems to feed a more primitive appetite that, for most of the week, is hidden or at least camouflaged. But it is this contact, this physicality that gives football its appeal — especially among men. And that is why tackle football remains the most popular high school sport with more than a million athletes.

There is no question that knee and head injuries are a concern. This may account for the 9 percent drop in (high school) participation. But it is also true that tackle football is where one finds a “level playing field” as it relates black and white athletes — athletes fighting for a first down; celebrating a victory; or shaking hands after a loss. This game has done as much for racial harmony as affirmative action.

In the end, this is a game that comes with risk, serious risk, but also presents opportunity. One can choose to play — assume that risk — and sometimes succeed beyond calculation.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at