The ultimate game
Winston Churchill understood contradiction and compromise.
The best argument against democracy, he said, was spending five minutes with the average voter, and he’s often quoted as pointing out that our form of government (he meant democracy again) was the worst except for all the other forms. He was sort of a jokester that way.
He definitely had a handle on America and Americans, who he said would always do the right thing after exhausting all the alternatives. So I expect he would have understood football.
Once again, I feel compelled if not legally obligated (it’s unclear) to at least mention that the Seattle Seahawks are going to play in the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, and it’s big news.
You know all this, even those of you who believe that the best argument against football is spending five minutes with your average fan. Particularly if his face is painted green.
Our corner of the country gets a little attention whenever the football gods favor us with a winner, and many of us respond like those people in stadiums who find themselves suddenly on the Jumbotron: We wave our hands wildly and maybe dance a little, just a bit, knowing this may be our only chance to get noticed.
And while we may take pains to explain that no, our clean water and fresh air don’t inspire us to scream at the top of our lungs like maniacs, that most of us, if we watch, watch enthusiastically but quietly without body paint or foam fingers, that passionate sports fans are found in every city, doing wild and sometimes antisocial things in the name of some franchise that might just pick up and move to Oklahoma tomorrow, it’s fun to have some attention. For a while.
I’m not immune, even if I’ve become a fair-weather fan over the past 30 years, missing complete seasons when the Hawks weren’t all that entertaining and I found better things to do on Sundays.
It was in this very column, in fact, nearly 13 years ago, that I made a prediction.
“I believe that the Seahawks will go to the Super Bowl in my lifetime” I wrote in 2001, another 9-7 season (weren’t they all) that ended with a whimper.
I wonder how many columnists make predictions that come true not once but twice? There should be extra credit for that, I’m thinking.
But we were talking about Churchillian contradictions, and for the non-painted football fan those are pretty clear.
For the past few years, we’ve been hearing a lot about football and not in a good way. These are horror stories, really, stories of men who won fame and fortunes and then lost their minds.
Suicides. Traumatic brain injuries. Senility, psychoses, families suffering while they watch once-gifted athletes shuffle and stumble through later life, and we’re finding out why.
Yes, it’s always been a rough sport, but we know that today’s players are bigger, stronger and faster, and that the rules and protective measures haven’t kept up.
The president of the United States recently was quoted as speculating that he would not want a son of his playing professional football, but that seems to be a common statement among parents today.
Baseball sounds good. Maybe golf. Some activity where you’re not likely to face a giant who covers 20 yards in two seconds, who might or might not enjoy the sight of your brain squeezing out through your ears.
Here is the contradiction, then, and the compromise. It’s nothing new; we enjoy watching other people take risks, and we’re fascinated by bad outcomes, as horrifying as they can be.
Traffic collisions snarl highways for this very reason. We like to look, and gasp, and shake our heads, and look some more before we have to look away.
And let’s be clear: I live in a very large (and messy) glass house, so I’m not throwing anything.
I’m excited about the Super Bowl and the Seahawks. I’ve lived and died with every game in this Russell Wilson era, rediscovering my passion and losing my voice on a couple of occasions.
I love to watch Golden Tate run after the catch, putting his body on the line for an extra yard.
I smile and tolerate Richard Sherman’s cockiness because he seems like a big kid, a young man excited to be playing the game and so far putting his money where his mouth is, constantly moving.
I infer metaphors for endurance and persistence when Marshawn Lynch never, ever gives up and gains seven more yards.
But I read the reports of the suicide notes of former NFL stars that plead for somebody, anybody to examine their lifeless brain left behind for signs of pathology.
I hear about Jim McMahon, a smart, aggressive former NFL quarterback who describes getting confused on the way to his kid’s soccer match.
I think about the football heroes of my youth, and realize I have no idea what ever happened to them, and realize that maybe I don’t really want to know.
Maybe Churchill was right. Maybe we will exhaust our alternatives and find the right answer eventually.
I know I’m going to enjoy these next couple of weeks and the big game. I just wonder if I’ll watch that game and, after it’s over, decide that maybe I won’t watch any more.
Sometimes you just have to look, and then you just have to look away.