I never missed a deadline in my life, but I missed one this past Tuesday. That was the deadline to enter the NFL's “Together We Make Football” essay contest. According to the league's website, it was “an invitation to anyone who has been touched by the game of football ... to share a story of why they love the game.”
The NFL, of course, is promoting itself through what surely will be upbeat, inspiring and maybe even inoffensively humorous stories. The league is, after all, one of the most wildly successful public relations machines of all time for a reason. And, like most fans, I have my share of feel-good memories related to football. And those memories are, indeed, cherished.
But, since the deadline has already passed, what the heck, might as well tackle the darker side and share alternative, somewhat subversive stories.
I love football because, at the very first game I ever saw in person, I learned about the ferocious danger of its raw violence. On Nov. 20, 1960, I was 12 and my dad took me to Yankee Stadium to see the Giants-Eagles game. In the fourth quarter, the Giants' Frank Gifford was knocked unconscious from Chuck Bednarik's tackle, called “clean but cruel” by Dave Anderson of the New York Times. Gifford sustained head and neck trauma, was hospitalized for several days and missed the rest of the 1960 season and all of 1961 before resuming his career.
I love football because it taught me a fundamental lesson in capitalism. When the American Football League came on the scene in 1960, with its wide-open offenses and 2-point conversions and players' names on the backs of their jerseys, the NFL alternately ignored and demeaned the competition. But when the AFL showed legitimate signs of financial viability and launched an all-out offensive against the NFL by signing away talent and driving up salaries, the senior league made the upstarts an offer they couldn't refuse, co-opting them with membership into the old boys' club.