I began this column on Monday afternoon, and during my almost waking hours the next morning dreamed up a new lead: President Obama had sent NFL advisors to trouble spots around the world to form into football teams the men on all the sides of any dispute. Solving all of our problems in stadiums. And peaceably.
It’s not surprising that the sport was on my mind even as I slept: If you read the local newspapers on Sunday and Monday, you’d have thought that nothing much was going on in the world except football.
The Sunday Times-Picayune had a front-page story on the Saints’ upcoming game against the Atlanta Falcons, and then, on the inside, stories about what could be expected. Ditto for the Advocate.
On Monday, both papers — the TP came out of its partial hibernation for this — rehashed on their front pages the Saints’ hairbreadth loss to their arch rivals, and then the scribes walked us through everything again in 12- and 16-page sports sections. Some of the space was taken up on both days with LSU’s Saturday triumph, and Tulane’s inglorious debut in its new stadium.
Football reigned, and my dreaming mind came up with a solution to the ills of the world. But not for long. Tuesday morning’s Wall Street Journal carried a front-page photo of a Baltimore Ravens player who has lost his contract after a video showed him punching out his wife in an elevator, and then dragging her out of it.
I awoke — no pun intended — to the knowledge of the violence that sometimes surrounds the sport, on the part of both players and fans. Remember the times when British soccer devotees rampaged after disappointing games? No, that’s not football, but it’s close.
The threat of violence accompanying ball games goes way back. The Roman politician Cicero (106–43 BC) describes the case of a man who was killed while having a shave when a ball was kicked into a barber’s shop. (That, presumably, was an accident, but you get the picture of the possibilities should the NFL become a peacekeeper.)
The ancient Greeks and Romans are known to have played many ball games, some of which involved the use of the feet. The games were mentioned by a Greek playwright, Antiphanes, who lived in the third century B.C., and appear to have resembled rugby football, reports my Internet source.
My husband watched the Saints play last Sunday on the big 17-year-old television set in our bedroom, declining to join others — partially for technical reasons: The new set in the living room has three controls — but mostly because he prefers to mute the sound. He says that as a former player on a Fortier High School state championship football team of almost 70 years ago, he knows what’s going on without having to listen to those dunderhead announcers.
I was reading in the living room, and he kept me posted, making regular trips down the hall to fill me in. When the game went into overtime, I almost got up to watch it — but not quite; the story in my book was at a more interesting critical point.
You already know about me and football. I filled you in with a column written for this site almost three years ago. I won’t bother you again with the details, but can’t resist repeating some of comedian (and, later, TV star) Andy Griffin’s remarks — “What it was, was football” — about seeing his first game.
He described the players as running down a big cow pasture, and scoring points only if they “hadn’t gotten knocked down or stepped in something.”
Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her email@example.com.