Time slows down right before the last huddle in the defining moment of a game and a sport that is trying to make the outcome seem fair and just to both parties. Even while the fans in the stands on both sides of the fifty yard line are screaming for blood and spraying saliva on the top of the heads of the fans in front of them, you don't hear a damn word of it when you're on the field. What you feel is a gigantic wave of religious fervor washing over you, a spiritual high that can make the pain of a stress fracture or a dislocated joint completely invisible to the senses. You feel like a god to be in this timeless space making a memory that will last a lifetime, even though it can never -- will never -- be enough.
The quarterback is the high priest of the occasion taking worthy advice from the monseigneur on the sidelines, advice he'd better heed and better execute perfectly if he ever wants these vestments laying on his shoulders ever again. You? You're just another altar boy or accolite lighting candles and moving people this way or that. Your job is important, but your job is more about protecting the high priest and his favored servants long enough to make this play about salvation and not about giving the opposition yet another chance to take you and your brothers to school and teach you yet another lesson in a long, long night of lessons. Lessons under artificial light that almost, but not quite, makes it feel like Sunday morning under the Big Top.
The first clue that the Big Top wasn't really the Big Top was when they started peddling astroturf as just as good, or better, than actual grass. Grass is a living thing with needs and a modern church of sport requires more than one service, even more than one denomination, to pay for its presence in this material world. Everyone pays, no one gets a free ride. You may get your moment where everyone sees the block you threw, the interception you made or the single-fingernail tackle that saved a first and ten at the wrong end of the field -- but every second you are on that field it is about staying alive just a little while longer. One split second of inattention and the opposition can put an end to your career aspirations, to the intoxicating sense of invincibility you had only a moment before.
Everyone can hold a football in their hands, not everyone can play the game. Of those who can play, most can't play well enough to survive a scholarship to college. Of those who make it through four years of elders you thought you could trust throwing human beings at your knees to either disable you or get you to quit because some idiot sub-coach thought he saw you break a sweat at the wrong time last weekend -- or you've been dating his underage daughter -- you have maybe four years under the Big Top playing a game that would kill an ordinary man. If you last longer you are a wizard and the world rightly gives you a piece of lumber with your name on it to hang in a shrine near the heart of the country you grew up in playing the game you thought you loved.
Somewhere along the line, though, even the wizards get betrayed by the astroturf, by the subtext, of what lies just underneath the surface of any sport that involves flesh, bone, blood and spit. The Big Top brings them all out -- every piece on a chessboard, or every character in a deck of cards. When they all come together to play and everyone takes their role on because it is what they were born to do, the game always ends the way it begins. We came into the stadium, the holy place, be it covered in astroturf or the most holy St Augustine, believing in right and wrong, in winners and losers. By our particular god, we actually leave our place of worship fully energized with a renewed faith in what we came in believing in the first place.
Things seem to end the way that they begin in this life.
The ultra-conservative, right wing faction came onto the scene at the close of World War II lying about their origins, lying about their intentions and lying about their final solution. It is not at all surprising that they are now lying quite sanctimoniously about these same things sixty years later.
Those who find it hard to believe that causes lead to effects and that those effects become encoded with their cause, believe in the game and the Big Top. They believe that there is a significant difference between their league and the league on the other side of town. They are lost in the blood, the sweat, the tears and the drama of what happens every weekend even if they aren't the ones down on the field feeling the frozen moments of raw power and pure invincibility. Even though they'll never know what it's like to see the whole game as one big patch of astroturf covering up a bed of nails, or what it's like to chase a feeling you had one time -- that first time -- for the rest of your life knowing full well you'll never catch it again.
People who play football in Texas do it for the same reason the players play soccer in Iran. The people who come to pray to their television idol do so with a fervor that might frighten someone uncomfortable with what happens under the tent of a revival meeting on an Alabama Summer's day. But it looks the same as a buddhist chanting for hours on end, or the compulsion a Muslim has to prostrate themselves according to a perfect order and a perfect schedule that no man or woman could hope to rival.
It's all the same whether you want to believe it, or not. It's a game with rules, a game with winners and losers and the only way a winner wins is by losing, repeatedly, and learning from their mistakes.
The Muslims of this world have watched the true Torah Jews, the scientists and the Baptists. They have lost their asses and learned their lessons well. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that the Muslims scare the evangelical Christians of the US: their sanctimony and their piety is bigger than our's. So, obviously, the rules require some adjustments if the one whom god obviously intended to win this grand game is going to win in our pitifully inadequate reenactment of something that cannot be faked is to match the final outcome.
The meaninglessness of it all has reached a fever pitch with both sides willing to openly cheat, deceive, coerce and murder just so that they can say, finally, that the good guys won.
Whether we punt or go for it on fourth and one is not the issue any longer. What is the issue is whether the goddamn game means more than our lives. If it does that will be because it always has. And if it always has, there are some rather disinterested cockroaches who've also been losing and learning for a long time now. They are poised to strike, poised to replace our philosophy of science with a simple knowing twitter and twist of their attenae. Perfectly adapted to clean up after the game.
What disgusts me most about the sanctimonious blood-suckers on either side of a competitive bloodsport is their heads are forever in the game, forever committed and forever missing the point. Forever replacing reality and grass roots with astroturf and bullshit. Wether you're a Muslim or a Jew, a middle linebacker or an idiot downlineman about to get his bell rung, you are forgetting why you are here and what the game was intended to teach all of us: how can we make reality seem more real?
First hint: get rid of the astroturf and quit lying to each other. You don't have a clue and neither does the idiot who thinks he owns this place. I've been around long enough to know that I'll never see a cockroach with a stack of books under his arm or a pair of electrodes attached to car battery headed in your direction.