His story The Year of the Great Fan Draft (page 54) notwithstanding, Associate Editor Frank Deford is a football fan. Deford, who also wrote this week's cover story on the Los Angeles Lakers (page 10), in fact attended the Colts' first game in his home town of Baltimore in 1953, and he still watches the pros regularly on television. "I like professional football," says Deford, "but I do find annoying the false complexity and sacrosanctity that has been built around the game." Deford found out what a holy ground pro football is when he was assigned last summer to line up a writer to do a humorous story about the game. "There are hordes of writers willing to dig at baseball for being old-fashioned or at basketball for being small-time," he reported back, "but they shy away from football as if they'd be poking fun at the fourth person of the Blessed Trinity." Not afraid of a little iconoclasm, Deford took on the task himself, using what he considers humor's most effective form, satire.
His subject fell right at hand. "I just based the whole thing on some idiots I know who attend pro football games regularly," he says. "Some of the liveliest people turn both boring and boorish when they talk football. First they try to impress you with their knowledge of the game's phony technical terms and then they overwhelm you with descriptions of the rigors they've withstood to watch it. They know when they buy their tickets that it's going to be cold in November."
Overbearing fans, however, are not Deford's pet football peeve—halftime shows are. "Halftimes are the most insipid, unoriginal and gross excess in American life today," he moans. One Sunday, Deford tried leaving the room during the half, but could still hear the music wherever he went. Then he experimented with turning down the sound, but every time he walked into the living room he could not avoid seeing a band form up into an American flag. Now he just shuts off the set. "I figure 20 minutes of silence is better than any halftime I've seen, except one last year when they had a circus," he says. Deford's solution is to lock all bands that spell out anything—and all majorettes regardless of race, color or creed—into a stadium and make them watch each other. "It would be cruder than the Chinese water torture, but it would get them off my TV."
Once the game resumes, Deford returns to watch, fully enjoying the action and thoroughly annoyed by the descriptions. "I know some football players and they're pretty average guys," he says, "but the announcers give them all the intelligence of Phi Beta Kappas and the dramatic sense of John Barrymore. They fill the players' jobs with needless complexity and then add a touch of syrupy drama right out of Our Gal Sunday. This year's pet phrase seems to be 'crucial third-down situation.' I must have heard it a million times. I've seen quarterbacks do great in those situations, but I wonder how well the announcers are doing on their third downs."
January 27, 1969
We think Deford has done well with his first down—he has never written a football story for us before—by making reading about the game exactly what he thinks it should be: fun.