Riding out that interminable period between the playoff games and the Super Bowl, the thinking football fan is inclined to weigh the highs and lows of the past season and ask himself whether or not the time and emotional energy expended on the game were worth it. Ultimately, he raises questions about the nature of the game itself and wonders if there is really nual four months' love affairs with all the strategems in one's personal life that conducting such an affair entails.
While going through just such an agonizing reappraisal recently, I came to the conclusion that one of the saddest developments during the past season was the disenchantment of the intellectuals with the professional game. Of course, football has never captured the interest of all intellectuals, probably not even a majority of them, but there was a time -- one thinks of the era of the brilliant Lombardi Green Bay teams -- when the game did have a strong appeal to the thinking person.
Now one considers himself fortunate if he can engage anyone in a two-minute conversation over "Yesterday's" game, and the exhilarating ritual of Monday morning quaterbacking has become a lost art. What went wrong? Why the disaffection?
Well, we can say first that what attracted intellectuals to professional football in the first place -- the purity of its form -- appears to have become somewhat adulterated by commercialization and the infusion into the sport, by the networks, of "show biz" values.
Another apparent turn-off for intellectuals has been the publicity given the Yahoo element among the fans. That image of the pot-bellied Neanderthal guzzling beer as he sits glassy-eyed in front of a television set watching double-headers on Sunday, as well as Monday Night and Thursday Night games, simply won't go away; and it has become a symbol of everything the intellectual despises about the culture surrounding the game of football.
Then, too, intellectuals, who tend to place a high premium on erudition and the nuances of language usage, have become disgusted with the slipshod and superficial manner in which the game has been reported and analyzed in both the electronic and print media.
Here we can say that the emergence of the verbally inept Howard Cosell as a national celebrity tends to gnaw away at the innards of intellectuals. Unlike other segments of the football-watching population, they are unable to simply dismiss Cosell as a harmless buffoon. Rather, they regard him as the embodiment of everything that is wrong with Big Sports and American culture. Eventually, many tune him out and football along with him.
Finally, intellectuals have abandoned the game because they believe it has lost its creativity and has allowed itself to be taken over by systems analysts and robot-like coaches.
It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that so many of the best and the brightest have allowed themselves to be distracted by the above phenomena, because these elements do not represent the essence of the game but merely the culture on its periphery. In spite of some minor changes in the rules, the values that attracted these people to professional football in the first place are still there. They simply are not as apparent as they once were.
What is so satisfying about professional football -- and this is why the game should have strong appeal to the thinking person -- is that its many dimensions provide an outlet for the expression of an entire range of human faculties.
For example, sometimes we forget the immense pleasure that is derived from the mental activity of analyzing game plans, offensive and defensive strategies, and then putting it all together in post-mortem analysis.
Another aspect of the game that is not sufficiently appreciated is the aesthetic level. This has to do, of course, with the beautiful pass patterns and the ballet-like "moves," especially those of the wide receivers. If anyone doubts that this could ever be a significant source of pleasure, I would suggest that he read a recent New York Times Magazine piece, "Connecting With the Wide Receivers," a superb account of the aesthetics of the passing game.
Then there is the emotional dimension, which is not always present since football games, unlike dramatic productions, do not have a pre-set structure. But when one views an epic battle, such as the recent Dallas-Washington game, he is likely to experience a catharsis the certainly must duplicate what perceptive audiences must go through as they witness the plays of the ancient Greek tragedians.
Given these verities, one would hope that the intellectuals who went astray would stop dismissing professional football as just another gross product of American culture and return to the fold. The purity of the game is still there. But getting at this essence requires that one turn off, literally and figuratively, the hype, the Monday Night Football idiocy, the Super Bowl hoopla, and other blights that the media and Pete Rozelle have perpetuated. The game's the thing. That axiom sounds so simple, yet how easily one forgets. he solid and possible sort which promises to be enduring. It is the pro