by Brendan Beery
Which coach? Pick one.
Football season is a welcome arrival, although it was more fun when I lived in Michigan (rather than Tampa, Florida). In Michigan, the arrival of football season was more a harbinger: time to get out the sweaters and jeans; time for the world to burst into earth tones; time to get that fireplace swept out. In Florida, where none of this applies, football at least ushers in a certain mindset: there’s a kind of community and energy around it.
Even those who find football to be frivolous should be glad for it. I’m convinced that football is one of the reasons the USA remains – by international and historical standards – relatively unified. As a nation, we have not been spared the affliction of many countries: geographical tribalism. Attitudinally, American northeasterners and westerners are to southerners and Midwesterners what Sunnis are to Shiites. Were “Blue America” and “Red America” to divorce, the former would evolve into a full-employment, highly educated mecca while the latter would devolve forthwith into the world’s newest Third-World country.
So how have we remained as one? Football, of course! In many nations around the world and throughout time, when social, cultural, and historical tensions have built up like seething steam in an ancient radiator, the release valve has been war. And so it is in the modern-day USA. Only in this country, we fight our wars on football fields. Thankfully, a national consensus has emerged that when one tribe’s football team clobbers another tribe’s football team, the appropriate reaction is not to take up arms, but to win the recruiting battles and return the favor next year.
Sports don’t always provide this kind of release – this kind of balm. In Europe, for example, the reaction to a sports loss often is intra-tribal violence, and even death. But that’s because Europeans have failed to develop a sport that is sufficiently warlike. I mean, come on – soccer? Seriously? One can play a whole match while leaving nary a drop of testosterone on the field.
American football isn’t played; it’s fought. For Christ’s sake, we’ve created a contest wherein one side takes the other’s territory. Like the lurching front lines of WWI, football teams clash violently and beat down their opponents one yard at a time. Look at the verbiage: tackle; blitz; bomb; formation. Even football’s non-military terms sound military: who needs ground zero when you’ve got an end zone?
But alas, in all seriousness, football is obviously not war, and it really is just a game. As much as it might be a release for tribal pressures, it is likely much more a mere escape. It’s a chance for people to forget about reality for just a little while – and to feel, as part of a collective fanhood, a little bigger and a little more powerful than maybe they really are. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.
This is why, no matter how important football might be, its coaches have become silly caricatures. We can joke about football being a war, but coaches seem to think that it really is. To see grown men prowling the sidelines, their heads beset by massive audio contraptions, their ass pockets stuffed with maps and strategy papers, secret plans in hand, arms folded, faces ascowl – one has to think, take it easy, pal. We all know you’ve got a role to play, but you don’t have a war to win.