Wednesday October 12th, 2011

Football is real big. Everybody knows that. But it is getting bigger. Football is now gigantic, monstrous, humongous. Sure, it was years ago that it passed baseball as our most popular sport, but by now football simply looms alone above the American sportscape.

I would rank the U.S. sports entities this way:

1. The NFL.

2. College football.

3. Fantasy football.

4. Major league baseball.

5. High school football.

6. The NBA.

Oh, the first two weeks of the NBA season have been canceled because of a labor dispute? And maybe the whole season is in jeopardy -- but have you heard much weeping and wailing about that? Hey, we got our football. Any run-of-the-mill NFL game scores rating numbers above what baseball, the erstwhile national pastime, does with its championships. Moreover, the entire NCAA conference map is being redrawn as our noble college presidents scratch each other's eyes out in order to relocate wherever they can, so they can obtain more money from television for football. We can't get enough football. Why, I think you can make the argument now that the NFL draft -- a bunch of guys reading off names in a ballroom -- is the premier American sporting event of the spring.

No, American football never will be as dominant as soccer stands supreme in so many countries. Baseball, basketball and ice hockey, too, maintain large and passionate fandoms here. But what has changed is that now we don't have four major team sports. We have football über alles and three other subsidiary popular games.

Football's hegemony was established because it plays so well on TV, and is, with the point spread, such a perfect game to bet. Its recent upsurge I believe can be accounted for by the fantastic popularity of fantasy football and by the fact that football's bang-bang moving violence meshes so perfectly with the video games that young men love. Baseball is a game of hand-eye coordination, an exercise in craft, and when it reigned we were a nation that built things. In movies then, heroes nimbly rode horses, and sophisticated private eyes figured stuff out. Football is, by comparison, a muscle-leg game. In concert, today, on movie screens, speed and car crashes rule.

We must always be very careful in trying to relate any country's taste in sport to its national temperament. After all, the most varied of cultures all prefer soccer. But still, America's increased devotion to football must mean something. Unlike our two other homebred sports, baseball and basketball, which have developed appeal in many other disparate countries, American football is just that -- American. Except for a bit over our northern border, in all the world it is only played seriously in the United States. That we alone love this sport so much and love it more and more ... that must tell us something about ourselves.

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