Time for Yankee football
Are you ready for some football?
No, not the real thing. The Yankee one. You know, the one where they hardly kick the ball but are boldfaced enough to call it “football”. The one with the pointy ball, the helmets, the excessive padding, the crunching tackles, not to mention the gallerying at even the most minuscule achievement.
Yet if you put aside all those inherent prejudices against this quintessentially American hybrid sport and focus on the skill, the speed of thought and execution, the courage required to take some of the most vicious body-blows that one human being can legitimately dish out on another, it’s almost impossible not to be enthralled by the spectacle of brain and brawn in true sporting harmony.
As a former outpost of the British Empire, it has been almost natural for us to accept “real” football (the one with the round ball that is kicked around 95 percent of the time) and cricket and rugby as our sports. Part of that acceptance involves looking down our noses at the Americans and their crude corruptions of these supposedly pristine disciplines.
But let me tell you, open that closed mind and take in a National Football League on a Sunday, or the Monday night feature game, and you’ll regret all the years missed of truly amazing sporting moments. Yes, I know. You can’t stand the stop-start way the game is played. But how is that any different from basketball? And you know how badly we’ve been hooked on the NBA, from the days of Kareem, Magic and Michael to Lebron and the boys of the Miami Heat.
Speaking of Miami, it’s the style of the Dolphins of the mid-1980’s that turned me into a big fan of the NFL, although with the West Indies cricketers mashing up everybody in sight and Liverpool dominating English and European football at the time, it was not something to be admitted openly in those days, unless you were okay with being derided as a never-see-come-see freshwater Yankee.
But on those brutally cold winter evenings in Winnipeg, with tons of snow burying the Canadian prairies and (more to the point) no sign of cricket or football on television, it was the NFL, the Miami Dolphins, majestic quarterback Dan Marino and his deadly duo of wide receivers, Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, who warmed the heart and stirred the soul with their amazing plays.
As I said before, if you were to put aside all the anti-American prejudices and stop complaining about how complicated the game is (Imagine that. People hooked on cricket saying another sport doesn’t make sense!), it would be almost impossible not to be in awe of what appears to be run-of-the-mill in an NFL game.
To watch Marino, or any other quarterback for that matter, trying to find a receiver even as some of the most fearsome species of the human race come bearing down on him, is absolutely mesmerising. To see Clayton or Duper or anyone else you can name before or since keeping their eyes on the spiralling ball as they race downfield, then have the composure to clutch onto the funny-shaped thing just as an opponent is about to knock them into the back of the stand, while at the same time getting both feet down in play before they go catspraddling over the sidelines, knocking down everything—teammates, officials, cheerleaders, benches, Gatorade, you name it—as a matter of course is unbelievable.
We go wild when a cricketer takes a running diving catch while he was trying to follow the flight of the ball looking over his shoulder. Well, imagine that he was trying to do that at the same time that someone from the other side ran onto the field and was about to barge into him at the same time.
We can argue the respective merits and shortcomings till the election results are called tonight, or in two weeks’ time, or 19 months from now, but at the end of the day, it’s about taking the time to appreciate the subtleties, the finer points and not just the bone-jarring hits and “Hail Mary” passes that are the stuff of NFL folklore.
And by the way, there’s something that American football has that you don’t find in our beloved international cricket or English Premier League--a fair chance for most, if not all. Due to the draft system, where the worst of the previous season generally have access to the best of the new talent coming out of the universities, there’s a greater unpredictability to an NFL season compared to an EPL one or the International Cricket Council’s Future Tours Programme.
Imagine a 20-team competition like the Premier League where only four (maybe five) clubs have a realistic chance of lifting the title. It’s even worse in Spain, of course, where Barcelona and Real Madrid are really the only ones with championship aspirations at the start of every season. And we know only too well the cricket situation in which the power-brokers of the game try their best to avoid the strugglers, condescending to the occasional couple of Tests every decade or so.
Compare that to the NFL, where there have been eight different Super Bowl winners in the last nine seasons. Isn’t that what you want as a fan, to believe that your team has a chance of winning the whole thing at the start of a campaign?
You watch election results. I’m ready for some football tonight.