February 2011

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                        Sy Schechtman


    As of now,  with almost two weeks still to go as of this writing,-- before that momentous TV event—Superbowl 45---commences, the very good news,  at least for Fox News stockholders,  is  that all available commercial time during the game has been sold for an estimated $2.8 million to $3 million for each thirty seconds.  A few years ago this almost  evanescent but then standard  time slot presentation went for about $256,000 per 30 second  availability.   But  the lessening grip of the recession is probably  having its very welcome financial effect.   Also entering into the crucial economic equation is the make up  of the contestants.   If the New York Jets make  it past the Pittsburgh Steelers it will greatly enhance the public interest.   The whole eastern seaboard  fan base will then be involved.    The  best fan base, of course,  would have been San Francisco (the Forty Niners) against New York (the   Jets),   a coast to coast fan “entrapment”!    Since that happy eventuality  will not be forthcoming ---all the west coast teams   have been eliminated--the next best lucrative outcome should still  emanate  from the increase in another distinct and disparate group of fans.   The kind and gentle feminine sex!

        Yes,  in this era of genuine “smash mouth” football, where we are beginning to wonder about the long term health of our noble and mostly very courageous football heroes,  in this obvious concussion creating activity women are now an important, if still peripheral aspect.   That is,  in the  estimated over 100 hundred million or more who will be sporadically tuned into the over four hour broadcast, an estimated 20 or more percent will be women;   watching not so intently the play by play nitty gritty action on the gridiron  but the very numerous commercials, many brand new for the vast super bowl   Sunday audience, hitherto all beer swilling and mostly unfettered masculine hedonisim  but now of  a more amorphous questionable sort.   And most probably  trying  for some sort of same sex parity in this once unquestioning bastion of  male dominance and superiority.    With supposedly knowledgeable female commentators on the game’s progress as well as on more general alluring products that both sexes and their children would enjoy.  

        That this is a world wide TV saturation for one day both my wife and I personally can attest to.  In one of the last four years ---2007--- on a Holland American cruise ship in the Caribbean on Super Bowl  Sunday,  we watched the Giants on ship wide TV beat the New England Patriots while we were half way through the Panama canal!  Ardent  Giant fan that I am,  needless to say,  this almost miraculous event capped what has indeed a very memorable cruise  and great season for my Giants.  Since then the outlook  for them has been frustratingly dour but unfortunately  I do pray for some serendipitous event again that will rekindle that seemingly  impossible time..  In the classic joke we have, the poor but rabid fan is praying to God  for help, and the heavenly  response was imperiously peremptory ---“Schmuck!!.  First you have to buy the cruise tickets!”    But I too, can be rather stubborn at times.    And the recession/depression has left the Lord, God, Creator in the rather unenviable position of providing now even the rather hard to come by essential cash for this marvelous fantasy to occur…..But perfervid hope does spring eternal!    The still small voice within still murmers stubbornly….remember the Sea of Reeds parting just in time for the Jews and then swallowing up the pursuing Egyptians….But….but then Tom Coughlin’s agonizied TV face  is still no holy Moses…..etc.etc.   Maybe a new coach would be the best way….etc. etc….

        The hard reality at the moment is that over 25 countries will be televising this latest football epic and at least providing much needed solace or even splendor for the  winning devotees!  (And it is now several sessions into this article and I now know what two teams are left for this championship
Super Bowl extravaganza!)  So, dear reader,  be comforted  with the sure security that wherever you may be that landmark Superbowl evening---the game starts at 6:15 on Sunday Feb. 6th ----  almost wherever you may be on civilized Planet Earth  you will be absolutely current  with the unfolding struggle.  And the contestants the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh  Steelers. 

        But somewhat beyond the present very pleasant positive --which also includes rather large salaries and signing bonuses for all, even including neophyte rookies who start at close to  one million dollars,there are long term doubts.    Consider, however,  that the average career is a  little more than three and a half seasons, and the question of long term injuries,  starting with present probable  brain concussions and lingering long term arthritic events is being finally addressed.  Various congressional committees have even held hearings on football injuries; no random thousand sample retired football player  study has yet to be taken and there is growing public concern about possible long term effects of effective currently approved and effective “smash mouth” tackling and blocking.  I certainly enjoy watching on  high definition television the total battle of contesting  teams offensive and defensive struggles and the teamwork, strategy, and sheer  heroism of the quarterback,  standing coolly behind his few blocking protectors---in the so called “pocket”---  with less then ten seconds to discern the most eligible receiver downfield and estimate  where,  two three to three seconds later, his throw should arrive.   And  then after absorbing a resounding thwack  across his body by the defending pass rusher--- still rising  up eagerly from the blow of the malevolent(?)tackler to see the result of his eager, intrepid behavior ----maybe, perhaps,  a touchdown pass completion!   Or even better,----- that,  long almost one hundred yard kick-off return, the runner  threading artfully, and with almost balletic grace  past many frustrated  missing tacklers,  and in the last few goal line crossing yards waving the ball in one hand triumphantly  held high!

        Simply marvelous in sheltered living room ease  with expert replay analysis at hand to bolster even more the armchair comfort of  the distant live spectacle.  But even more is the secure knowledge that no one  near or dear---no kin or progeny  is on the field of action,  the fabulous football gridiron.  Still much better a dentist, lawyer, doctor, accountant, computer specialist or even in the front office of a sports enterprise. and the eternal vicarious joy or disappointment this somewhat removed involvement  still allows!     

        Indeed, what  inevitably  seems to be happening is the unwitting sanctifying of  another neutral----non religious  and apolitical  national holiday—another but somewhat diminished  recognition of  the necessity of maleness in some legitimate form or other.   Just a one day event and on a dull Sunday in February,  not slowing any mail delivery or interfering with the stock market or any other exciting event,   and  not the long drawn out seven day baseball  World Series baseball  possibility.   But still a steadfast interracial male event that  women can watch and admire but not really co-opt. That seems, logically, where  Super Bowl Sunday  seems headed.   A taming of male dominance—and ferocity--  to the sports section of the daily newspaper with only few awkward consequences.  However,  in almost every other  aspect  in real  life the most compelling and perhaps fundamental trend of American society has been for the emergence of growing female involvement and perhaps even complete equality or more  in most aspects of our society.  In the sports world there is now equivalent female participation levels and perhaps public interest in all aspects of the sports  world except football,  and one hopes that lack of high current male involvement will not be further impinged upon!   As inferred above, females have now a very healthy section of the survival pie already--- almost 60% of all college undergraduates, 53%of all managerial and professional  jobs,  54% of all accountants, 35% of physicians, 50% dentists;  most crucially now almost 60%of current admission applications are from  women!   Indeed, as of now   several higher level colleges are considering  affirmative action for male students.    And,  rumor has it,  even now,  that mere  maleness raises admission chances quite a bit,  even for poor  old white students!!

        In    football we have the prestige of the ProBowl ,  where the players themselves select their estimate of the best players at each postion.  Both leagues then play each other in the annual  “Pro  Bowl  Classic”.  Which is remarkable for its almost injury free competition  but rather lackluster  viewing.  But there has never been anywhere a definitive random  study of  at least one thousand retired  National Football League players,  and the game itself over the years certainly has become more “smash mouth”,  faster and more aggressive.   And the average weight of the offensive and defensive linemen has increased many times over the years and it is not unusual for behemoth 300 pound or more opponent players consistently involved in accidently or deliberately forceably colliding, tackling,  or falling on each other.    Mondays after Sunday game day,  most of the  of the players spend all day recuperating in bed,  and it now takes a 53 man roster to field the necessary 11 men playing on the field at any one time in this 60 minute contest. Fortunately with many brief—45 second-- strategy huddles,  and some time outs for needed other contingencies.  There are also 6 umpires or referees constantly running up and down the field of play;  people who must need be in excellent shape too,  and who are occasionally  carted off the field after the unfortunate minor mayhem of  an accidental collision with a very earnest and preoccupied  player.

        Not so coincidental  is this week’s very influential  New Yorker magazine,  which has a very timely pre Super Bowl story about the growing  awareness, and concern over,  the rising incidence of football injuries.   While the article does not pretend to be totally comprehensive it  definitely highlights more public concern about current physical injury in this growing “smash mouth” emphasis of what has avowedly always been a very physical  sport. And details many disabilities that some retired players are burdened with.  Congressional committees, equipment makers,  and concerned college officials---whose entire athletic budget is usually financed by their college football team’s attendance receipts—are being more attentive  to the destructive aspects of the game.   

        Hopefully the pendulum will not swing too far in the opposite direction.   We do not want the namby pambyism of the Pro Bowl event.  Maybe the force of a physical hit can be  recalibrated Nintendo style on a monitor up in the  press booth on a TV monitor application.  It will still be testosterone manifested but only subtly sublimated.   And we can still have a Super Bowl Sunday with a somewhat refurbished and evolved  football  technology-----probably more passing and less running.   But still part of the audacity of hope--- not just  dubious wishful thinking!

        But, above all,  let’s have that  study of long term disabilities now.  So that we can still go forward realistically with the essence of the game of football;  still a great combination of the  superb athleticism  of brawn and brains that can still win the day ---and future superb Sunday Super Bowls.    And not so many severe Monday recoveries!