Search This Blog

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chapter 12. Fly Like An Eagle

by Bob Andelman

"I enjoy seeing the best of anything. And professional sports provide the best athletes in the world. My wife and I go to the ballet. We like to see the best ballerinas in the world. It's exciting. And in professional sports, you get to see the best athletes every week."
Dick Williams
President, The Derrick Club
Houston Oilers Fan Club

Not every man is turned on by the violence in football. Many are drawn in by other elements. The pitchers of beer, video replays, the synthetic fibers straining to contain the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders . . . and the bona fide grace of the athletes.

Dallas Cowboys helmetImage via Wikipedia
The challenge of a football player pushing his way against a formidable obstacle -- the other team -- involves skills of instant acceleration, pinpoint passing (that's why we call it "threading the needle") and delicate agility. You can see great moves, strength against strength. The bomb, the quick strike. That's the stuff that makes many men scream in ecstasy.

"I'm not animalistic or anything," Miami Dolphins fan Shawn Cahill says. "I might go, 'Oooh' or 'Yeaaah!' But I don't see football as an outlet for violence. I much prefer seeing a great pass or run or catch. A great hit is not what I look for in a football game. I'd rather see a deep bomb or a catch over the middle. Because everything's got to be perfect for it to happen. You've got to have good protection, the receiver has to get open and catch the ball. A great hit -- many times it's a defensive lapse or the quarterback is hit on the blind side. More and more people are getting hurt; it's not good for the game when the stars are out."

Most people think of basketball when they think of grace in the big four men's sports. But more than a few guys stick by football's aerial displays and majestic strategy. Seeing a classic 60-yard Hail Mary pass spiral leave Joe Montana's cocked arm as a defender takes him down, watching the football majestically arch high above Candlestick Park before slipping perfectly into a zigzagging Jerry Rice's cradled arms at the moment he leaps across the goal line cannot be compared to mere sex. It's bigger that that.

It's a combination of intensity and finesse. Passing is a kind of weird science, seemingly understood only by the game's best-looking, more articulate philosopher-kings. It's a cauldron of magicks that Merlin could but stand by and admire.

Speed, elusiveness, cunning, strategy, teamwork and organization as well as raw athletic skills like jumping, catching, throwing, kicking and running are what make football irresistible to men with a distaste for the hitting, crunching and bone-grinding that also makes up the sport. Beauty to these guys is watching an O.J. Simpson, Herschel Walker, Emmitt Smith or Deion Sanders fly down field, stepping left, stepping right, hurdling over would-be antagonists to gain yards and score touchdowns.

"I watch the ball," Volney Meece says. "I've heard for 50 years that you ought to watch the pulling guards and the center and all that technical stuff but I just can't do it. I watch the ball and I watch the quarterback. Oklahoma, for so many years, ran the wishbone and split-T formation -- you had to watch the quarterback to find out what was going on. There is nothing more beautiful than when the quarterback comes down the line, fakes the pitch and the end takes the fake out with the running back and the quarterback cuts down field and it's just wide open. To me, that is the beautiful play in football."

To Meece, there is no greater poetry in the world.

"I have seen enough football," he says, "that I am aware of what's going on and how many people they flank out and what the backfield formation is when they come to the line of scrimmage and things like that. I don't try to think about it till it hurts my head but I do try to get into the strategy of the game."

Conversely, if your favorite team -- or the one you happen to be watching -- features a player like Billy Sims, Barry Sanders or Thurman Thomas, you're going to watch the halfback and see where he's going. Because when that man gets the ball, it's showtime.

The real glory in the game goes to those who avoid getting hit, thanks to natural talents, speed, peripheral vision and fast thinking.

It's easier for men to talk about how the Bills were last weekend or how mean the Dawgs are in the trenches in Cleveland than to acknowledge that the sport, played at a very high level in certain positions, is very, very skilled and almost ballet-like. The greatest players in the game are phenomenal athletes. They are very gifted at what they do and everybody appreciates it. Some may appreciate it on a conscious level and be able to talk about it. Men don't particularly talk about the grace and beauty because that isn't the kind of conversations men have. Men allow themselves to talk about how tough their team is but they really don't talk about what a terrific athlete, or how graceful Jerry Rice might be, even though he exhibits the kind of athleticism that an ice skater or a gymnast has. Men don't talk about stuff that way.

"The grace of these athletes amazes me," Dr. Daniel M. Glick says. "These guys are wearing 20 to 30 pounds of equipment and yet they go out and make leaping catches, jumping and rolling over people. Look at defensive linebackers and defensive players like Lawrence Taylor. I don't know what the stats are on him but he has got to be somewhere close to 275 pounds. He does the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds and he moves around people like they aren't even there. The man is a giant, and at the same time, extremely graceful. He doesn't get the kind of publicity that an acrobat might get when they jump up into the middle of three defensive backs and pull down some passes from a quarterback on a Hail Mary."

No comments: