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November 11, 2005

Fatal Football Frenzy

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

It's a binary year for Seattle-area football fans. On the one hand the NFL Seahawks are doing well, and on the other hand the University of Washington Huskies are stinkin' out the joint over at Husky Stadium. The place smelled last year too.

Twas not always so. Under the reign of coach Don James, the Dawgs (as they're known in these parts) were highly ranked, maybe even being the best team in the country one year.

The Huskies over the years have tended to be in the above-avergage to good range, though they never won a Rose Bowl game until 1960, when I was a Junior. They won again the next year; I attended both games.

Back in the late 50s and early 60s at many games the stadium public address announcer would request that would a doctor please report to such-and-such a place. The next day's newspaper might report that two fans had to be removed due to heart attacks. Sometimes the elderly fan (probably an alumnus with season tickets) was carried out feet first to the funeral home.

I intensely followed football while in college and for about 20 years after. I bled purple for the Huskies, though my interest was only middling for Dear Old Penn's Quakers (the name struck terror into the hearts of Princeton's Tigers and Yale's Bulldogs, no?).

As for the pros, I loved the Green Bay Packers in the NFL and was a huge fan of the Oakland Raiders in the AFL. I recall pacing the living room floor, agonizing each time the Kansas City Chiefs marched toward the goal line against Oakland. The second Super Bowl game created a huge dillema because the Packers played the Raiders. I finally decided I was more a Packer fan than a Raider fan (the Pack won easily, by the way).

By the time I reached my mid-40s I came to realize that such emotional intensity was not a good thing. I remembered what had happened at Husky Stadium years before and decided that, while dropping dead when UCLA scored a touchdown wasn't the worst possible way to go, high tension in the vascular system might lead to premature check-out time, and where's the advantage to being premature.

So now I'm a sang-froid guy when it comes to football. If the University of Oregon grinds Washington into a pathetic pulp, well it was interesting to watch the Ducks' skill. If the Packers get creamed, well, ... well that would just be the end of the world. Sorry, I'm still a Packer fam.



posted by Donald at November 11, 2005


It's almost embarassing to admit this, being a straight American male and all, but I just can't bring myself to like football. It consists of way too much standing around and way too little action. I mean, in a 3-hour NFL game there probably isn't more than 20 minutes of actual, ball-in-play action. Add the incessant penalty calls and the *constant* parade of TV commercials, and my attention span is gone before the first quarter is half over. It also doesn't help that the season coincides with what's often nice weather in much of the country. I'd rather be outside on a crisp fall Sunday than stay indoors slumped in front of the idiot box watching commercials for cars, beer, and Levitra, interspersed with occasional brief episodes of football.

Posted by: Peter on November 11, 2005 10:30 PM

As a kid, I loved the Yanks and Giants and Mets, subscribed to SI, and followed the various leagues avidly. But the only pro sport I've kept up much interest in since about the age of 20 is tennis, more specifically women's tennis. I'm not entirely sure why. I enjoy watching games when everyone else is doing it and there's no way not to, and I marvel at how well they're televised, though the hysteria level of the graphics and the sound makes me recoil, and feel like a sensitive lily. (I'd love to learn more about the visual design of sports -- uniforms, stadiums, decor, insignia, TV graphics, etc. It's a whole visual culture of its own.)

But I'm many generations behind at this point where baseball and football are concerned, and getting back on board seems like a big challenge.

I've toyed with the idea of getting interested in minor-league baseball -- the real old-fashioned thing, or so fans have told me. And I ultra-loved a dirt-track-racing evening that the Wife and I attended in the boonies a year or two ago. That was one fun time. But hard to follow from a home in Manhattan.

I wish I were more involved in major-pro sports than I am, if only because I come up short in lots of discussions with friends and colleagues. People really seem to bond over sports. The Packers, you say? Are they still in Green Bay?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 12, 2005 2:05 AM

The best thing about being a diehard Dolphins fan is the Schaudenfreude. It's always a wonderful little pseudo-championship when the last undefeated goes down.

I was born in '76, BTW. Dad graduated High School with Manny Fernandez. So I don't remember the history, but I have a near-mint Sports Illustrated that's my pride and joy (the cigarette ads are so damned erudite!)

Posted by: J. Goard on November 12, 2005 3:08 AM

Michael -
Among the endless advantages of the Internet and cable/satellite TV is that following an obscure sport can be suprisingly easy even if it's absent from the sports pages and broadcast TV. Channel surfing on Directv one boring evening a couple of years ago I came across a professional bull-riding contest on Outdoor Life Network, started watching out of curiosity, and was hooked. You won't see any mention of it in the sports pages, though NBC occasionally broadcasts an event or two each spring, but OLN has shows every weekend and the official site ( is easy to follow. We even went to see the first New York-area contest, held at the Nassau Coliseum at the end of April. Of course this is just an example, there are other non-mainstream sports which you can follow, with a little determination.
In some ways, following an obscure sport is more fun than being a fan of football or baseball, it creates a sense of individuality.

Posted by: Peter on November 12, 2005 9:57 AM

I'm going to play devil's advocate here, but the fact is, I've never really "gotten" professional team sports. What exactly are you a fan OF?

That is, a professional team consists of a group of professional players -- hired mercenaries -- gathered from all over. The team name may be "Chicago Bears," let's say, and it may be based in Chicago, but most of the players aren't really from Chicago themselves, having been hired in from elsewhere. I remember it being cause for comment when some Bears player really was from the Chicago area. Thus the Chicago Bears aren't exactly some physical embodiment of Chicago's civic spirit or whatever.

I realize that professional teams haven't been "local" since the 19th Century, and some kind of residence requirements would probably be a legalistic nightmare to enforce anyway. Still, you've got a bunch of guys hired in from all over. They come and go from year to year. Some wash out, some play for few years and then go somewhere else, a few become individual stars in their own right. But the team is a fluid, always shifting mass of individuals, never quite the same even from one year to the next.

So what is the team an expression of? The coach's will? Coaches come and go. The owners? They hire the coaches, but even owners change over time.

I think I'm looking for an auteur theory for professional team sports here. Is the coach the equivalent of the director?

--Dwight (who as a kid stayed in his room all day to read comic books while all the other kids were out playing good healthy ball)

Posted by: Dwight Decker on November 12, 2005 10:11 AM

Yes, Michael, the Packers are still in Green Bay, which is one reason I still like them. (My closing lines in the posting were largely for effect.) As Dwight points out, players are nomads, especially with free-agency and salary caps. Aside from appealing to the nearer-is-better sort of tribalism in human nature, there isn't much intrinsic appeal to pro sports aside from the aesthetics of athleticism. (Another factor might be familiarity, because local papers an TV keeps you informed, a lot, about the local dudes.) The thing with Green Bay, apart from fond memories of Vince Lombardi's teams, is the fact that it is the last big-time small-city franchise, common in the earliest years of the NFL.

I watched almost no sports back when I had a TV. When I have TV again, I'll likely watch a quarter or two of football Sunday and Monday evenings, but that's about it. Did that stuff when I was young.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on November 12, 2005 1:24 PM

Dwight --

It's about tapping into something subrational. For those of us who have the learning and the disposition to take perspective on it, it reminds us that we are primates and pack animals.

A team, you ask? A team is a totem. For many, especially those entrenched in Eastern cities, it may reflect civic pride, even intra-city issues. But I've never lived in Florida, and certainly wouldn't claim to have particularly great affection for Miami relative to the rest of the country. Sometimes my beliefs do seep into the nature of my fanhood: among the division rival Bills, Patriots and Jets I tend to feel more antipathy for the latter, doubtless owing much to negative stereotypes of New York fans. But mostly it's just the totem, and I can't explain to you how a Chicago-born Californian came to follow this one. I just do. Sometimes I go through periods where I don't follow the league as much, don't get as worked up. But the allegiance is still there.

I guess I don't mind diving from time to time into things that resonate with pack animal psychology -- so long as I have tools to reflect upon and learn from the experience.

Posted by: J. Goard on November 13, 2005 12:00 PM

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