In the American South, autumn means a respite from searing heat and lackluster baseball. In the North, it denotes brilliant outdoor colors and the donning of sweaters.
But North or South, what it really means is football has returned.
After six months of somewhat sleepy sports activities — like horse racing and horseshoes — America finds itself once again addicted to our country’s true national pastime, football.
And with good reason.
Football goes by a clock. Baseball doesn’t. Clocks denote constraints. We live our lives by clocks. We get to work on time. We go to school from nine to three. Get your homework done before Sunday night.
Baseball has few time constraints. Despite well-intended rule changes, baseball games are still agonizingly slow.
Football is four fifteen-minute periods with two-minute warnings as halves end, sixty precise minutes of non-stop action. Work the clock, use the clock, kill the clock, save the clock, watch the clock, stop the clock……that’s football.
Football Saturdays have Alabama crimson precisely performing, Notre Dame blue and gold on the cusp, chasing that elusive next national title, Big Ten resurgence versus previous SEC dominance. The NFL’s best of the best perform at exactly one and four o’clock every Sunday.
Football has crowds ranging from millions watching on television to thousands cheering in stadiums to hundreds at “Friday Night Light” games in every big city and small town in America. Organized and policed properly, football can be a classroom in communal civility, a seminar on achieving goals, a better than “TED Talk” on individual sacrifice leading to team success.
Game plans in baseball end with the first pitch. In contrast, football strategy dictates building upon your strengths and exploiting your opponents’ weaknesses play after play after play.
Football is determining true champions. A plethora of one-and-done games. Baseball is six months of sluggishly played night games leading to seemingly endless post-season play with few teams having national fan bases.
Football is the Family Manning, Andrew Luck, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch and Cam Newton. Baseball is, I don’t know, maybe Dee Gordon, MLB’s top hitter?
Football Cinderella stories abound. How in the name of Knute Rockne did Tom Brady last until the sixth round and how did quarterback Kurt Warner go from the Arena League to supermarket checkout clerk to the Super Bowl?
No sport values defensive play as does football. A strikeout in baseball? No big deal. Your team has twenty-six other at-bats to produce, whereas in football, busted defensive coverage usually results in an opponent scoring. You lose a game in baseball, you have dozens of opportunities to make it up. Every defeat in football leaves far fewer chances at redemption.
College football may lack the skill level of the NFL but is every bit as exciting. From the Saturday morning moment ESPN doofus Lee Corso dons the headgear of the team he has picked to win, to the game’s final gun, bedlam ensues. Cheering, yelling, screaming, rabidly faithful fans run the gridiron gauntlet from hope to despair and back, only to repeat it all a week later.
Football. You gotta love it.
And everybody does.