February 2012

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Sy Schechtman

I flatter myself hugely, but quietly, on my long range perspicacity of choosing Latin learning almost eons ago, both in high school and college, so that I can almost reflexly—without too much strain, really---- tell you that those four almost incomprehensible letters in the upper left at the beginning designate the number 46 and relate to the epic 46th Superbowl, an annual event that almost deifies and sanctifies the first Sunday in February as a national holiday. Indeed, some seven or eight years ago on that very first February Sunday my wife and I were on a Caribbean cruise having dinner and lo and behold there we were, helplesslessly watching the Superbowl! I say that advisedly because we were half way through the Panama Canal ship board on an exclusive Holland American ship then and did not want to be distracted by any competing stellar events to our canal journey between the two major world wide oceans----the Atlantic and the Pacific! A journey that had entailed much planning, anticipation and money outlay.

And, truth be told, I only continued in Latin in my college freshman year because the alternative was Analytic Geometry, which sounded awesome and awful. But, truth be told again, the football game does grow on one; especially when your team begins a winning streak, like my Giants, this year! (Fickle fan indeed!) Indeed, current American style football, is distinguished from the more “effete” other football that most the of the world still glorifies and we diminish and call soccer, is still the world’s prime choice. And much interest is shown here, not for that sport inherently, but for the extreme passion the American press gleefully reports as the disconsolate foreign fan’s reaction in riots and mayhem to unpopular referee’s decisions. We do definitely have more violence on the playing field, at times of a more controlled but still concussive nature, but while always a negative still a part of an integrated attempt to gain the opponents territory and the ultimate coveted goal line and touchdown.

The opposing teams have four chances (downs) to advance the ball at least ten yards, huddling between each down for 40 seconds to set up the next play and perhaps revise strategy and exploit the opponents evident newly discovered weakness. Reports from the sidelines are also wired in to the of playing field to the quarterback’s specialized helmet to assist in the play calling. This information is buttressed by several coaches who are watching from the vantage point of viewing far up in the stadium seats who see the contest of the 22 men from a different and still important viewing aspect. All this is almost instantly available to the “field general” ---the quarterback-- in each huddle, through his wireless connected helmet to shape the next play, whether to pass or run or what. All this has to be set in this 40 second huddle “conference” and as they then line up for the next play in this four down sequence to gain at least the necessary ten yards to retain possession of the ball, the quarterback can call an audible change to his crouching lineman in front of him. That is, he has forty seconds—including the huddle time--- to call a verbal play change command in his signals to the center to snap the ball back to him. And he will do this if he sees that the opposition is lining up defensively too astutely for the intended play. And all the 7offensive linemen must hear these new play signals as they are crouching in a set stance waiting for the ball to be snapped. And this is not easy to hear, especially in a rival stadium where the crowd is shouting imploringly, Defense! , Defense! and thus almost drowning out the quarterbacks’ new emergency plans to his straining, but rigidly set stalwart seven front lineman. If they move or flinch during this taut time then “drawing the opposing lineman offside before the ball is snapped” is called, a five yard penalty.

Thus a mental tug of war precedes each play. On both sides, offense and defense. A form of mental chess, if you like, preceding the controlled concussive possibilities of the bodily tackling and blocking. And, as I have previously written, no definitive scientific random analysis of at least a thousand retired NFL players has ever been attempted. But the players all know of the increased possibility of later, after football “retired life” has the strong probability of physical ailments. But they are, in the realistic present realm willing to engage for at least two alluring reasons. The prime reason probably is financial. While the average playing time, career wise, is only four to five years, salaries start at close to a million a year, and thus the average football retiree, at a relatively young 40 year age, can easily be a net millionaire, after deductions for business agent, trainer, and premiums for medical and disability insurance. Also, many also like the hard physical regimen involved, evidently an exhilarating stimulus and challenge. Bottom line reality also involves the large number of lower class first generation immigrant members involved, deterred by lack of many scholar smarts to be eligible for more effete paths upward in society. The upper class white athlete is found much more frequently in golf, tennis, fencing, lacrosse, track and field and even soccer, which latter sport involves much physical stamina, but not the brute muscular strength of football. Usually the immigrant second generation adult has a different perspective and is college bound for a more rigorous combined academic and intellectual goal with more gentle recreational effete sports or recreational hobby pursuits as pleasant accompaniments. Jews are a prime example of this. First generation Jews took mainly jobs in the garment trades, lower paying but more available because of family connections. Since these were not always available,however, a substantial number of Jews then followed unwelcome but necessary survival paths. These became for a while the pariah paths of prostitution and gangsterism. Polly Adler in the twenties and early thirties ran a famous bordello in Manhattan for mainly elite clientele, and then published her memoirs in a book called A House Is Not A Home. Lepke Buchalter was an infamous crime leader in Brooklyn in the thirties and ran an organized group dubbed as The Jewish Murder Incorporated, and nicknamed the Jewish Mafia. Also Jews were into boxing, with successful champions like Maxie Rosenblum, Barney Ross , Lew Tendler and Benny Leonard. Max Baer, once world heavy weight champion, was a putative Jew; not really Jewish despite the name indicating kinship. And Baer did not disabuse that mistake, for he suspected that some significant part of his fan support had a Jewish base.

Now younger generation Jews and other relatively recent minorities usually are on a more sophisticated path. Jewish boxers have given way to physcians, scientists, and respectable, if somewhat stodgy stock brokers, politicians, and even celebrated stage and screen performers. And the pattern is certainly being replicated in the National Football League, where black enterprise is being rewarded not only on the ‘grunt and groan’ very lucrative playing level but on the higher up coaching, managerial and ownership levels. Indeed Superbowl Sunday has already supplanted the Fourth of July as America’s prime entertainment spectacle. And next to Thanksgiving, a most unifying family event. Validating, once again an old American assimilationist dream of E Pluribus Unum, ---out of many, one. (Pardon my snobbish Latin again!)

Time will almost stand still for the devout spectacle watcher as a small armada of war planes will fly over Indianapolis and circle Lucas Oil Stadium where the Super Bowl will be held in Indianapolis on the first Sunday in February. About 75,000 will crowd that relatively small stadium. Last year, in Texas, Jerry Jones new stadium for the his Dallas Cowboys was finished. It seats over a 100, 000 people and the NFL and other related football enterprises grossed over 12 billion dollars last year. That’s why now many major corporate sponsors are eager to spend $3.5 million dollars for each 30 second ad on the telecast of the upcoming Sunday Superbowl.

Indeed, that may still be relative bargain, for an estimated 100 million people in 232 countries and territories speaking 34 different languages will watch Tom Brady and Eli Manning and the rest of the Patriots and Giants vie for the greater glory of the annual ownership of the Vince Lombardi Superbowl trophy. An also for the greater glory still of our unique and remarkable and exceptional culture, that nurtures the individual and his or her the opportunity to achieve their full potential and still be able to cooperate and understand ---or tolerate! ----each others’ wishes.

Do we not “huddle” almost all the time with the constant media blitz that surrounds us constantly? To say nothing about all the public opinion polling we constantly indulge in. That’s why “we make haste slowly”. The almost constant free speech and free press does not make the almost constant huddle a dreadful muddle of suppressed dissent. Rather the core center of our culture almost always holds and our respect for our differing opinions leads to inevitable workable compromises. And it’s still simply super living in the Superbowl Sunday State where the possibility becomes the probability of realizing all one’s cherished dreams and aspirations!