Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Football And Why Its Storytelling Sucks

Football season's on the way, and being a Wisconsinite, it is state law for me to root for the Packers. Football's one of my sports, after all.

But don't expect me to go on about it here like I do with baseball and soccer. That's because as much as I enjoy football, it is terrible at producing the kind of stories I'd want to recount here. We don't have NFL Network in my area, and as far as I'm concerned, it can stay that way.

Why is that? There are a couple reasons.

1: Everyone's face is obscured. That can't be helped. You do have to keep everyone somewhat safe, after all. But when you've got a helmet on, nobody can see who you are. Individualism is gone. You are the name on the back of your jersey, and you are your number. Perhaps you are 'the guy with the dreadlocks coming out of the helmet', but that's really not much to go on. There are no distinctive looks when everyone's got a helmet on, which means no stories about what people go on the field looking like. No afros like half the ABA, no surfer hair like Tim Lincecum, no Snidely Whiplash mustache like Rollie Fingers. Just another guy with the same helmet as everyone else.
2: Highly-choreographed plays. Nobody's got time to be peculiar in any way. Here's your assigned guy, now run away from him/tackle him. That's about it. Run, throw, catch, block, tackle. The most one can do here is make a diffcult catch, or go above and beyond on the tackle, which leads to...
3: Football stories mostly sounding the same anyway. War stories. 'So there I wuz...' After a while, if you're not the war type, they start to blend together in your head. (Unless you decide to go on the speaker circuit, in which case you will tell middle-management types who have spent the last 15 years in a cubicle how what they're doing is exactly like football. These middle-management types deserve every bit of inevitable misdirection they get from a guy that spent a decade repeatedly running headlong into 300-pound college dropouts.)
4: Nobody's running trick plays. Which means no crazy-play stories. They tend to get squashed anyway.
5: The 'No Fun League'. Excessive celebration? 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff. May be good for sportsmanship, but it turns things that much further into a league full of interchangeable dudes who matter to you mainly because of what they did for your fantasy team. Unless you are on defense, in which case you will be stripped of your identity entirely and get lumped in with the rest of your team as one defensive roster spot. A few chosen names may act out- Brett Favre, Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens- but mostly names come and go and that's all there is to it. One day revered, the next day forgotten, and even if you're a Hall of Famer, there is every chance a fair number of fans might not recognize you going in even if you played recently. You don't see that happening to baseball or basketball players.

Many of the best stories in football come from the earlier days, when it was a lot looser in operation. You may not want to return to those days of leather helmets and small-town teams that survive three whole seaons before folding and even frequent deaths, but you know the old Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

More recently, the best stories tend to come when some part of the proceedings goes wrong. The "wardrobe malfunction". "South America's Team". A Packers/Panthers game in 2001 being marred by gigantic clumps of sod being torn from the ground throughout the game.

Most likely, teams' seasons will come and go with little to tell the grandkids about except the final record, and maybe a playoff run or even a Super Bowl win, in which case you'll remember the names of some of the players in the years ongoing.

How'd it happen? The same way it happened every other season. Fun to watch, but difficult to remember.

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