Monday, August 31, 2009

Masochism and (American) Football

There's a blog post by this guy Bagehot over at the Economist, "Of masochism and football," that that has a paragraph that rings true to this fan of American football. Particularly this Raiders fan:
Watching football, particularly but not only in the flesh, has obvious similarities with religious worship. There are rituals, there are chants, there are regular seats and neighbours, as there might be in more orthodox places of prayer, plus the elusive sense of community that churches or synagogues can provide. And football, like many religions, works on a principle of deferred (sometimes endlessly deferred) gratification, promising but withholding a heaven of success reached by most supporters only very rarely. The scarifying waiting, with all its failures and disappointments, is not incidental to the attraction: it is, I think, much of the point. It is an exquisite and addictive form of self-punishment.
The deferment he's referring to here is about goal scoring in soccer, but it applies to us Raiders fans, recently anyway, in terms of touchdowns (especially the Art Shell/Tom Walsh squad) and wins. But extrapolating this into American Football, I would say that the comparisons to the churches and synagogues remain, and I would add that American football is played on Sundays. Even at the lower levels, High school and college, the games are played after sundown on Fridays and on Saturday afternoons. And our stadia, especially the new ones, are as spectacular in their architecture as any cathedral.

Part of what is so frustrating about being a Raiders fan, and I imagine that a lot of 49ers fans feel this way, probably even more than we do, is that at one time, we were great. Al Davis, the renegade, the outsider who came from Brooklyn with a middle finger sticking in Pete Rozelle's eye, won ballgames with style. We were John Madden screaming at refs. Jim Plunkett winning Super Bowls and being immortalized in 460 Years of Chicano History.

Now, John Madden's a video game salesman, Jim Plunkett's a preseason radio personality, and Al Davis is an aging, senile patriarch.

But we stay faithful, I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because the uniforms are still badass. Or maybe because we know that as sad as it is, Al will pass on, eventually, and he can be remembered as he was in his (relative) youth, when his team dominated more than situations involving overhead projectors.

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