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The Middle Ages: The tribal tug of football, a sport that makes us stand up and sing

A Kansas City Chiefs fan yells in the stands during the first half of an NFL divisional football pla
A Kansas City fan yells in the stands during the first half of last week’s game. Football is the one sport where the season doesn’t seem long enough.
(Ed Zurga / AP)

“I hate tech!” the lovely and patient older daughter blurted one day, frustrated when some upgrade wasn’t working.

She has no idea how much that meant to me.

I hate tech too. I mean, I don’t lie awake plotting its demise. But I have a pretty thorough hatred of tech. The way you dislike bad pet owners or clueless Uber drivers, that’s how I hate tech.

I am totally aware of how silly that sounds. In fact, I was listening to some church bells the other morning and thinking that at one time, church bells would’ve been considered a bothersome technological advancement.

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Before clocks were common, people relied on bells to know it was happy hour. And some goof like me probably derided the church bells, thinking they brought unnecessary structure to everyday life.

“The soothing birdsong of a summer morn is no longer enough?” I would’ve grumbled, and readers would’ve smirked and questioned my sanity, just as they do today.

So there will always be cranks and cynics among us. And I pride myself on being yours.

To my mind, we should love a lot of things – Lee Marvin movies and holiday feasts, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens … the last few sequins of a spectacular sunset. Burgers so cheesy they slide right out of the bun.

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And we have to have our hatreds too – tiny, carefully curated irritants that remind us that an unexamined life is not worth living.

For example, I hate that football season is ending, which blends a love with a hatred, taking emotional idiocy to record highs, thank you very much.

America needs football the way Whoville needed Christmas, not for the gifts but for the way it makes us circle up and sing.

As I’ve noted, football is our national waltz. For all its issues, it also builds trust, teamwork and perseverance. There may be better ways to build grit. None comes immediately to mind.

Football is the one sport where the season doesn’t seem long enough. It has inspired its own cuisine, unites us in fashion, generates instant friendships. The colder it gets, the more magnificent the games.

The ball is shaped like a cocktail weenie, to facilitate bad bounces.

“FumBULLLLLLLLLLLL,” Keith Jackson used to shout, and a joyous national mayhem would ensue.

There is nothing like 15 friends huddled around a TV with chili on their sleeves to make a winter’s night a little warmer. My son and I gathered a few buddies the other night to do just that.

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For my wife Posh, a party wasn’t a party unless she broke a finger making onion dip. That’s how frantic she was before the guests arrived.

Instead, the little guy and I buy a bunch of chips, take a nap and call in the Apostles, the tag I use for my fun and defective friends.

Bittner brought wings, and Verge brought Bay Cities sandwiches. The leggy dentist brought her funny husband and paper plates with team logos. A couple of the Chardonnay Moms showed up with candlelight in their eyes.

If I spend any more time with my buddy Miller, I could claim him on my taxes. Like him, my friends get a little loud sometimes. Some show, others don’t. One sent a singing telegram. At one point, three of the funniest men in L.A. were in the same room.

The house is snug but, by tradition, there’s always too much to eat. I lighted a fire and too many candles, because if I learned anything from my beautiful wife, it’s that everyone looks good in firelight, even me.

The dogs were good. White Fang slurped avocado dip right from the bowl, and the 300-pound beagle barked for two straight hours. Eventually he stopped to eat a guest’s purse. The beagle is 58 now, so we grant him a little leeway.

“You can calm them with lavender oil and lullabies,” a friend suggested.

“The dogs?” I wondered. “Or my friends?”

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As the game progressed, we stirred the pot of chili for what might be one of the final times this season.

You know, I wish there was something besides football that united us this way. Certainly our kids once did, when they were young and every waking moment seemed devoted to following them from soccer, to scouts, to school plays.

Back then, weekends were a pilgrimage. Parents traveled in packs, following our children like Gaddi tribesmen.

Thanks to football, life is still a tribal pursuit.

At least till Super Sunday, when there’s confetti in the winners’ hair and the whole nation weighs in on the merits of some tasteless halftime with millions of flashing police strobes, as if to warn us away from this overblown sport.

Nothing can, nothing will. Football is America. It summons us like church bells.


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