To reconnect with America -- where I still proudly live, particularly on weekends -- I recently went to "Friday Night Lights" and a Friday night football game. And I recollected something I had learned a long time ago:
Boy, we're screwed up.
That's right, folks. Today I'm going to spare the MLS playoffs and the NHL lockout and tackle the foundation of this nation -- high school sports!
Frankly, from where I sit, the more kids we put in a three-point stance, the less likely we are to find bin Laden.
Because, starting with high school football, our priorities are a bit misguided.
You see, high school football leads to college football.
College football leads to the BCS.
The BCS leads to a lot of needless complaining.
Which, of course, leads us inexorably to talk radio.
In the 1988 true story recreated in "Friday Night Nights" -- a reasonably entertaining movie, incidentally -- we get a glimpse of how high school football can galvanize a community. This is supposed to be a good thing.
But I've never understood a culture that props up jocks as teen idols and spends more on stadiums than schoolbooks.
(People think I protest high school football because I couldn't play it. That's nonsense. Sure, I couldn't play it. I also couldn't play classical cello, but do you see me railing against Yo-Yo Ma?)
In "Friday Night Lights," Permian High School got off to a slow start, and when you turned on talk radio in Odessa, Tex., you would've thought that Coach Gary Gaines had kidnapped the Lindbergh baby.
(Remember the movie "The Blob"? That's talk radio -- it picks up steam, grows larger by the minute and wipes out everything in its path. And that's just the first hour of the Rush Limbaugh show.)
Then, in the Texas Class 5A state championship game, Permian got a bad call in the fourth quarter on a catch by a Dallas Carter receiver -- the ball clearly hit the turf, from my angle in the movie theater -- and I realized that most people were going to race home and call talk radio ASAP with a simple message:
We need instant replay in high school football!!!
(Heisman Update: Playing with a separated left shoulder, surrounded by teammates who seemed not to care and let down by a pedestrian offensive scheme, soon-to-be all-time NCAA passer Timmy Chang gamely completed 26 of 53 passes for 227 yards Friday as Hawaii was mauled by Boise State, 69-3. The entire contest was televised by ESPN2, though I called Bristol at halftime and asked them to switch to a poker rerun.)
After watching a "Friday Night Lights" matinee, I decided to go to Friday night football live, attending the Palisades-at-Venice game a short walk away from my Los Angeles residence and returning me to my sports-reporting roots.
(I used to cover high school football, many Rolling Rocks ago. This is before Couch Slouch realized it was stupid to leave the apartment. Out there, there's traffic and people and anger. In here, there's TiVo and popcorn and two feather pillows contoured specially for my head.)
It was a tough environment. First of all, I forgot Rule Number One of high school football: Don't sit near the band; it never stops playing. By the second half, it felt like I was in the middle seat on a cross-Atlantic flight with a crying infant to my left and Mel Kiper Jr. to my right.
Meantime, every other player had a nickname and every other student had a cell phone. Every other moment felt terribly wrong. There was preening and pointing, and late in the third quarter, one of the adult fans on the visitors' side yelled, "Hey, ref, why don't you stick that whistle some place you can't blow it?" Which took me back to "Friday Night Lights," where, at a rather low moment of the season, Coach Gaines's wife asked him, "What do you think about Alaska?" She had the right idea. Then again, they probably have radio there, too.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Mike Tice went to Maryland just like you. Are you rooting for the Vikings to win it all this year? (Dan Steele; Reston)
A. No team has ever gone to the Super Bowl with a coach who keeps a pencil on top of his right ear. Yeah, Vince Lombardi kept two pens in his shirt pocket, but what's with Tice and the pencil? He always looks like he just walked out of an SAT test.
Q. Did you send a care package of blankets and warm mittens down to Hell after the Red Sox won the World Series? (Colin Anderle; Milwaukee)
A. No, but I'm not going to make the same mistake twice -- I've booked a monthlong trip abroad for October 2090.
Q. I am considering an investment in a pay-per-view venture that would allow subscribers to listen to Fox baseball broadcasts but substitute any commentary by Tim McCarver with interludes of easy listening or soft rock music. What do you think? (Joe Thiesen; Simi Valley, Calif.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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