Y'know, when I was younger, I hated football. That may seem odd, considering how it makes recurring appearances in Suburban Jungle
, but it's true. Not so much for the game itself, although I was always a bit disgusted by the idea of people getting paid tremendous amounts of money to cripple each other for life, but for the way it made people stupid.
The zenith of this was 1983, when the Redskins made it to the Super Bowl against the Miami Dolphins. Something you have to know about D.C.: this town loves two things — corruption, and the Redskins. Even when the Redskins are having their worst year ever, Washington spends the entire football season all crazygonuts about them. So when the Redskins are doing well
... it can be a nightmare.
And in 1983, the Redskins were doing really, really
well. It was something of a golden age for Redskins fans, with "I Love Them Hogs" blaring from every radio, "Hail to the Redskins" the background music for every used car dealership commercial, and even the few people in town normally apathetic about football whipped into an orgiastic frenzy.
I spent that autumn hating life and wishing the entire NFL would die in a fire. And I spent the decade or so following it grinding my teeth whenever the subject of football came up.
But later, after getting over the trauma of living in a city of 5.3 million complete idiots for 8 months, I had something of an ephiphany about the value of sports in society. You see, one of the things that bothered me so much about football is that, nerfed down as it may be, it's still basically a bloodsport, and one that I could see no redeeming value for. It is the gladiatorial arena of our age. But it does provide a very important service to society:It gives us something neutral to talk about.
This sounds fatuous, I know, but it's actually vitally important to make for a peaceful society. The old saw about "never talk about religion or politics" is absolutely true, but it barely scratches the surface. Everybody has their weird hotbutton topics, and you never know when you're going to step into a conversational landmine. ("My sister just had her third baby—" "AAAUGH! Don't you know you're despoiling the Earth!!!" ... "My coworker is a vegetarian—" "Those damn freaks! I want MEAT!" etc.)
Sports is the designated "safe topic." Any opinion about sports, no matter how vehemently held, is a valid opinion, and you can like a team, hate a team, shoot the breeze about it, argue about it, and at the end of the day still be friends — precisely because it doesn't matter.
As a card-carrying introverted geek, this is a 180° turnabout from my preferred mode of operation. I don't like to talk unless I have something to say. I don't like to pay attention to a topic unless it's actually important. But there is
a value in being sociable, and part of being sociable is learning how those extroverted non-geeks interact and remain pleasant with each other. And sports generally (and around here, football especially) have a place in that.
There is also another factor that's become more important to me in the past few years, and that's the association with football and autumn. Autumn, for me, is the long exhale of relief after the searing pain of northern VA summer. Where summer is hate, autumn is love. Everything about autumn, with the possible exception of the inevitable four weeks of rain, is wonderful. And the glow of this beloved season even shines upon football. When preseason starts, I know that means that autumn will soon be upon us, and that puts joy into my heart. It would be churlish to nurture a resentment towards the sport that symbolizes this beautiful season. Instead, I should revel in it!
And so, that is what I have gradually started to do. I seek out the weak-signalled and ever-changing radio station that plays Sonny & Sam on game day (because laurie_robey
and I are almost always in the car when a game is on). If I happen to be somewhere that has a TV and a comfy chair when there's a game, I may actually sit and watch. Occasionally I'll even pay attention to some game that's not the local boys, just to help me learn good football from bad, so to speak.
I may even pick up a Redskins shirt or something. I mean, burgundy and gold, they're core pieces of my natural palette. In 1983, I would have died first. But that was 26 years ago. And when I was six, I actually had a child-sized Redskins uniform, that I wore with pride because my parents told me it was a great thing. I wonder if there are any pictures of me in that thing?