And Then There Was Football

As the football season progresses (or regresses, depending on point of view), one is amused at the newer wrinkles in the game. Celebrating is a big deal now. Back in the day, players simply handed the ball to the referee after scoring a touchdown or just got up after making a great tackle or open-field run and assumed position for the next play. Nowadays, a touchdown is celebrated the same way as the end of WWII was celebrated in Times Square (sans the famous kiss, of course). First comes the hip-banger as the celebrant is smashed on his loin by a teammate’s hip, hopefully without incapacitating him. Or, a chest-banger may be employed as torsos are treated to reasonable celebratory trauma in establishing that a veritable god has just descended from Mt. Olympus.

Taunting and teasing are also back. Trash-talk is back, with a vengeance. A player making a tackle can still be seen doing the crotch-waddle-hop (ducks do it naturally) through the opposing team's backfield, pointing to himself and then to God and then to the spectators (as if to say “Did you suckers see that?), and telling the fallen quarterback in no uncertain terms what a low-life he is and how unworthy he is to be on the same field with a genuine he-man.

The lucky scorer may jump into the crowd for some back-slapping worship or whip out his cell phone and call his girl-friend or groupie from the end-zone and tell her what a package from heaven he actually is (and maybe make a shack-up date while he's at it). Elementary-school-age-skipping is in vogue as a scorer dances into the end-zone. This makes sure the crowd has noticed him since the other players are just doing dull slower-than-his running. For their part, the ever-present scantily-clad cheerleaders are still flashing their navels (and anything else that wiggles) at the crowd and waving their pom-poms as if the George Bush axis-of-evil has just been blown away.

Head-hunting is the big thing these days, i.e., effecting success through totally incapacitating the opponent, especially the opponent’s quarterback. The quickest way to do this – besides breaking various and assorted bones – is to simply actuate a concussion, something fairly easy to spot in the stands or on TV. The player sits up and looks blankly into the distance while trying to figure out where he is and what day it is. The trainer asks the standard questions as to his name and date of birth. If he can remember those he’s good for at least another quarter.

Whereas back in the day a tackle was effected on a ball-carrier from the waist down, the methods used now are the helmet-to-helmet brain-rattler or the body-slam (driving head-on and straight-up), which may also include helmet-to-helmet, thus breaking bones while also delivering a concussion and perhaps gloriously removing the victimized player from action for the whole season. The doer of the deed, of course, chances injury to himself but is always prepared for the mayhem he is about to produce and usually comes out okay, in which case he may lean over his victim and sneer.

The NCAA and the NFL try to lighten the mayhem by introducing new rules to “protect” players, as if the crowd comes to see protected players…about like the crowds that watch auto races to see the carnage. On roughly 50% of punt/kickoff runbacks, the return team will be penalized for a “block-in-the-back.” Rarely does any spectator or TV crew see this and most people wonder what it is. Since the players seem to be attempting to murder each other by blocks-in-the-front (legal), one wonders why the opposite blocks are so dreadful. A hundred blocks-in-the-back are not worth one good concussion.

There’s a rule now that penalizes a player for executing a “horse-collar tackle,” the grabbing of the top of a runner’s jersey in the back in order to jerk him off his feet with the possibility of cracking a vertebra or three and eliminating the opposition’s fastest runners. This calls for a 15-yard penalty, which is small potatoes compared to the hospital bill that ensues.

Some attempts at outright manslaughter are so flagrant that players – though in rare instances – are sometimes fined and/or given suspensions for one or a specified number of games. Since the average NFL player-salary is at about $1.8 million, not counting signing bonuses, the fines mean little, just something to mark off on the tax-return, just doing business. What’s a lousy $25,000 fine to a linebacker making $4 mil? As for suspensions…what could be better than dodging the bruises for a game or three, unless, of course, the salary has to be forfeited, in which case that linebacker could cough up $250,000 per game, but that’s just so much less on which to pay taxes in the top bracket.

So the game goes on…about four hours worth, when it could be finished by maybe two-and-a-half hours. The combination of commercials and the time to handle coach-challenges to referee-decisions has made the game into a marathon. This fan has given up watching but a fraction of the legalized mayhem. Watch the beginning and the end and a few segments in-between and the deed is done.