You are well into middle age, decently educated, happy in your work. You have a full, rich family life , a comfortable home, a tall stack of books you want to read, a quickening interest in amateur photography, a garden you enjoy puttering around in, and a certifiable need for outdoor exercise.
So what are you doing on a bright autumnal Sunday afternoon in a traffic jam on East Capitol Street, or screaming and pounding your fists against a television screen in an airless living room? Why, I ask myself (at least 14 times a year, not counting preseason and playoff games), do you allow this fierce concentration of concern for the welfare of the Washington Redskins football team to encroach so heavily on your advancingsunset years?
Usually, I do not choose to dignify the question with a reply. But when the sports editor of The Washington Post put the question to me the other day, in the form of an invitation to answer it in this space, I welcomed the opportunity, perhaps in hopes that soomewhere in the roots, as it were, of my addiction I would find its cure.
I would like to say, right now, that while I know I have a problem, it is not as severe a case as some that I have seen. I can miss a regular-season game now and again, unlike say, Clayton Fritchey the noted columnist,who would cheerfully commit the moral equivalent of knocking over a liquor store to insure his weekly fix. Fritchey, whose gracious and gregarious wife likes to have a few people around for Sunday lunch, will not leave his television hideaway to greet a guest, or even acknowledge the presence of those who trouble themselves to make their way to him, while the ball is in play. On one Redskin Sunday when he inadvertently agreed to an invitation to go out to lunch, he took his plateful of food to the television room at the kickoff and refused to move until late afternoon, long after lunch was over and even then only after he had been assured that all doors had been opened and the way cleared for his dash to his automobile and that the car radio had been fine-tuned to the broadcast of the game.
Another colleague, writer Colman McCarthy, has a case that is in some ways more serious. While openly excoriating professional football for its brutality (as distinct from the mindless seli-tortune of jogging or of seeking to blast or nudge a small white ball ever closer to an only slightly larger hole in the ground, he has lately given evidence of being a closet fan paying furtive calls on the training camp of the New Orleans Saints while on vacation in Florida and flashing snapshots of himself in the company of Saints' quarterback Archie Manning.
To the open, self-professed football addict, that's sick. Not that I consider myself a well man, as I was made all too aware when I retreated to the quiet isolation of an Annapolis condonimium to think about this problem. Instead, I found myself imploring an electronically gifted daughter[Word Illegible] from a delicated and dangerous [Word Illegible] plant of a section of electric light card from a table lamp in order to effect a connection to the outlet of a roof-top antenna - all this for the purpose of trying to improve the TV reception from Washington of a preseason Redskin game against Green Bay in Milwaukee.
Where did I go wrong? Without benefit of psychiatric analysis, I can only guess, but I think it may have something to do with inheritance: my grandfather on my father's side was what nowadays might be called a jock. His most historic contributions as an athlete at the University of Pennsylvania, however, is not to be found in any record book: it consists of the school colers. My grandfather happened to be wearing a red-and-blue cap while performing as a high jumper in the early days of Penn athletics: without consultation, legend has it, he grandly proclaimed red and blue to be the official university colors and so they remain to this day.
Partly, I suppose my habit was acquired in formative, early years when my father (not entirely unaddicted himself) resolved the inevitable conflict between football mania and paternal obligations by taking me to every U. of P. home game for a period of about eight years. No doubt, the problems also derives from a failure of character compounded by a sentimental streak - it still matters to me how Penn fares - and that attachment in turn, was readily transferred later on to Yale, where I did more than my share of football watching as an undergraduate. And it isn't just football; I wish for Yale to prevail in all things, just as I have always identified intensely with every athletic representative of my old home town. Philadelphia (the late, lamented A's of Connie Mack days, the feckless Phillies, even the Flyers). The hometown attachment is as wrong in Washington.
But I wouldn't be going to the baseball games, because I never even tried to play baseball. Football I tried to play, and maybe that's the heart of it, for while I once scored the trying touchdown in the last second of a critical game, it was an intramural clash between Pierson and Davenport colleges at Yale and the press coverage was pretty much restricted to a paragraph in the Yale Daily News. So, let's be honest about it, there is a lot of Walter Mitty in this Sunday afternoon obsession.
The rest his to do with the company you keep - in my case, a car-pool connection with Art Buchwald, the satirist. Rene Carpenter, the TV personality, and Joseph Califano, the lawyer/social worker/educator, all of them similarly afflicted. Rene did not play football at college, but she was a a cheerleader which can get you into a lot of trouble with football in later life. To play tennis with Califano, or a purportedly friendly, family game of touch football, with Buchwald is to sense in each instance, the frustrations of the unrequired athelete. Both speak movingly, proudly of the school of hardknocks, of stickball in the streets of Brooklyn and of their right, in consequence of their early deprivation to play catch-up football as it were out there on Sunday in the stands at RFK. The result of all of this is a sort of Alcholics Anonymous in reverse - we reinforce our weaknesses.
Perhaps this year it will be different. Carpenter, whose new husband is a sailboat enthusiast, has just finished sailing school. Buchwald has been talking once again of spending more time with his family. Now that he's in the cabinet, Califano says he wants to spend more time with The People. There's always the possibility that some one of us will give way under the pressure of conflicting demands and reach out for professional help.
Perhaps. Meanwhile, you'll have to excuse me - I have some telephone messages heere. Buchwald, who sat out the preseason in Martha's Vineyard, insists he'll be in shape for opening day . . . Califano is apparently beginning to think that a full stadium at RFK is a lot of people . . . Carpenter is calling about the car pool arrangements for the Falcons game . . .