Professional sports, and football in particular, have never been my passion. It’s a dark—if poorly concealed—secret, and not one to be discussed publicly. There are a few exceptions to the general rule: I casually follow the pro tennis circuit, and I’ve even been known to enjoy the few Major League Baseball games I attend each summer. But on the whole, professional sports have never really appealed to me. When it comes to football, the sport no red-blooded American male can live without, I’m at a total loss. Had Joseph McCarthy hauled me before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he could have nailed me as a communist simply by asking me to explain the basic rules of the game.
By now, I’ve developed various justifications for this aspect of my personality. Professional sports frequently glorify violence, undermine college and even high school academics, and divert badly needed public funds for wasteful expenditures like stadium construction. My father, a professor at the large public university in my hometown, mutters bitterly every time more money is allocated to the athletic program rather than to the sociology department. I grumble along with him.
So it was mostly to spend time with my blockmates and—just incidentally—catch Britney Spears’ new Pepsi commercial that I began watching Sunday’s Superbowl. My friends charitably acted as guides to the game, explaining the assorted highlights of the post-season and suppressing their horror at the gaping holes in my knowledge of football. For my part, I watched as quietly as possible, trying in vain to preserve the illusion that my silence was due to intense concentration on each tactical move and referee’s ruling.
In most ways, the game conformed to my expectations. I was disturbed by the casual manner with which the commentators disclosed that Kurt Warner, the Rams’ quarterback, would be starting despite needing injections to deal with pain related to an injury sustained earlier in the season. (Rather than being so naïve as to think this unusual, it is worrisome that medication and constant physical therapy are considered a regular part of athletics, professional or otherwise.) And I was irritated when I began to think about the obscene amounts of money being spent on tickets, advertisements and players’ salaries.
Yet as the game progressed, I was also surprised by my growing enthusiasm and desire for the Patriots to win. As my Bostonian blockmate lived vicariously through the Patriots’ surprise victory, I vicariously experienced his happiness and pride. It was impossible not to be charmed by the euphoric players, sports broadcasters and fans, even if I could only intellectually understand the deprivation local sports enthusiasts must have felt for the past 16 years.
Professional sports, however, have been redeemed in my eyes. I will not fail to vote against the next referendum to set aside public money for new professional sports facilities and I will denounce any politician who caves in to the demands of greedy millionaire team owners. Nonetheless, Sunday’s game reflected the power that the NFL wields, for better or worse, to delight and entertain millions. For a few hours, I dropped my objections, pleased to be among them.