What I don’t get is how anyone can dislike American football.
But, hey, to each his own. There, now; I’ve pretty much exhausted what there is to say on the subject – or, at least, what matters.
All the rest is bloviating to hear yourself talk. Which brings us to the American-football-is-evidence-of-American-psychoses-or-decline-or-something-plus-it’s-just-really-stupid contingent. Why are these people so wordy?
Well, no matter. They are. Every time there’s an important soccer event, they get into gear and start rewriting the Divine Comedy to make it an allegory on American football. When that palls, they start channeling Freud, C. Wright Mills, and Vladimir Nabokov. (I wait, so far in vain, for someone to invoke Thorstein Veblen. Someday it’s going to happen.)
Now Mike Flynn has chimed in, on schedule, with a football-signals-American-decline post at Breitbart. There’s a strong temptation to just pat him on the head and move on. But I’m electing, for better or worse, to register a few reasons why I like American football. And, yes, why I like it better than I like soccer, or “football.”
1. Things happen in American football. Things you can describe and identify: plays, drives, “campaigns,” meaningful turnovers, and, yes, scoring events, which soccer fans seem to regard as a kind of nuisance, retained like a vestigial appendage — in what would otherwise be a purer game — to satisfy the immature who demand such gratifications.
American football is complex and interesting. On both sides of the ball, it can offer a dozen or more distinct kinds of spectacular performance on every play. It requires organization and strategy. It’s big, full of moving parts, hard to bring off.
It’s like an aircraft carrier, where soccer is like a small-boat swarm. Sure, both can be effective under the right conditions. But who makes hit movies about small-boat swarms, or utters enduringly quotable presidential one-liners about them? When was the last time you caught sight of a small-boat swarm up close, and let fly words of unprintable enthusiasm under your breath?
2. In part because things happen in American football, it is blessedly free of on-field stabbings, decapitations, and mean-spirited political taunting. I really like this about American football.
We can speculate endlessly on it, but I’m convinced that one reason soccer fans are such hooligans is that nothing happens in a soccer game. If the fans just had more to occupy their attention during the game, they might not get up to so much unseemly mischief.
The soccer tradition of sharp-edged political taunting, meanwhile, is something that just doesn’t make cultural sense for Americans – and I prefer it that way. Sometime in the last decade, I remember a writer at one of the left-wing mags (Atlantic, maybe) who was getting a tingle in his leg over British and French soccer fans who yell “Hastings!” and “Agincourt!” at each other. I think he felt this was evidence of a refreshing historical literacy or something. It just sounds to me like the would-be-clever playground taunts of children.
I think you’ll see where I’m coming from if you try to imagine which taunts Americans could exchange with anyone in the same spirit. Even in our current compromised condition, we’re just not small or miscellaneous enough to engage in such repartee without breaking something. Dorothy Parker herself couldn’t make it witty. We’d end up like Indiana Jones blasting the Saracen, yelling “Nagasaki and Hiroshima!” at everybody, and sending them off the field in various states of fury and red-faced hysteria.
And then we’d just hate ourselves and spend the next decade trying to deconstruct our Constitution some more so it would stop already with encouraging us to be so big, diverse, and successful. Best to let the rest of the world have this particular indulgence all to itself. Real superpowers don’t taunt, just as a real team sport doesn’t keep everyone running around endlessly for no good reason. It starts and stops in order get something done, as God intended.
3. America can play football, in an expansive, unsurpassed, and satisfying way, without ever having to play a team from another country. Hey, other countries are great. I’m a big fan of other countries. Been to a lot of them, and have yet to encounter one I didn’t like. International sporting contests are likewise awesome.
But your whole way of life – the uniquely American cut of your jib, the way you walk around in freedom like you’re not scared of everything all day long – comes from the same place American football does: American exceptionalism. Of course we have a unique sport that only we really play. I consider that a feature, not a bug.
4. When Americans feel the need to watch a team sport in which players run around in a big melee for a couple of hours, we have a ready American alternative: basketball. It features freakishly large players, a bit more structure than soccer, and a whole lot more scoring.
5. Last, but assuredly not least, American football is just so much fun.