To be a football fan is to suffer from a mild form of insanity, and the United States is clearly nuts. I have lived many places, but nowhere did I learn more about the craziness of American football fandom than when I was the pastor of Florence Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Nebraska, a city where it really pays to watch the Weather Channel. On the Sunday I arrived at the church one of the first things the members did was give me a Huskers baseball cap and sweatshirt, which I was expected to immediately put on. I think it mattered more to them that I donned the Husker red than that I was wearing the traditional robe of a minister. In fact, I think they would have preferred that I preach in the sweatshirt and cap, at least during the season.
The Huskers are, of course, the Cornhuskers, the football team of the University of Nebraska. At the time they were coached by the great Tom Osborne and were dominating college football as few teams ever had. During college football season there were more Husker flags flying from people’s houses than American flags, which is saying something. It was a good time to be a Nebraskan.
If Omaha, Nebraska was the only place that ever went completely bonkers over football you might chalk it up to some sort of Great Plains mass hysteria, something like what happens to young girls at a Hannah Montana concert. But Americans are crazy about football everywhere. Rich and poor people are nuts about the gridiron—men and women, young and old, north and south, all ethnicities, religions, income levels—no group is untouched. Americans care so much about football it’s no wonder that people from other nations are a little afraid of us.
This past weekend my wife Kathi Kamen Goldmark and I were in East Texas promoting our books and supporting a couple of good causes. We were in Lufkin, Texas helping raise money for the First Street Arts Center, and we were in Jefferson, Texas at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend. The Pulpwood Queens are a consortium of book clubs that were begun by the head queen, Kathy Patrick, owner of Beauty and the Book, the only combination book and beauty store I know of. While I was there one of the many things I learned was that putting curlers in my hair makes me more dignified and literary.
It also happened that while we were in East Texas the Dallas Cowboys were in a playoff game, with a shot at the Super Bowl. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that when Dallas lost the game much of the state went into mourning. You could sense a pall settling over the land. I found myself being a minister again, offering condolences to Texans for their loss in gas stations, restaurants, and at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. And I don’t even like the Cowboys.
My point is it’s only a game. It’s not even that good a game. Hardly any sane human plays the real, tackle version anymore after becoming an adult—you could get hurt. The rules are Byzantine—I mean, who can really explain what “holding” is in a sport that is defined by everyone intentionally running into everyone else for sixty minutes?
America, it’s time we got a life. There are more important matters to be passionate about than football. That is, until the Forty Niners are in it again, bringing back the glory days of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Steve Young, when gold flowed down from the Sierra Mountains and San Francisco was the City of Love. Then it’s on, baby—it’s on!