It’s been a trying year for the NFL, complete with scandals ranging from domestic abuse to unforeseeable issues like deflated footballs. With a growing fan base, the sport continues to gain market share, and many believe it is now the all-American game, replacing baseball.
Critics of the sport often highlight the prevalence of injuries from the professional level down to the peewee level. These are all-important issues to address, without question, especially if you’re raising a son in this increasingly competitive sport that many also claim contributes to a culture of violence. Considering this is a game that reaches mythical proportions, complete with Roman numerals, colorful gladiators and adoring fans brought together into a giant coliseum for hours of intense battle, it’s a small wonder that there aren’t more altercations on the field.
Now, as a boy I played the sport with zeal. At the ripe age of 10, my friends and I would get together on the sloppiest and coldest winter days, preferably with lots of mud, and pretend to be the Green Bay Packers versus the Minnesota Vikings. The few years I played in an organized league put me in the best shape of my life. My fascination with the sport lasted until at some point after college, then, for whatever reason I can’t remember, I stopped paying attention for about 28 years.
My own journey back to football was rooted in a role reversal of sorts. Fast forward to about midway in the 2012-2013 season and once again my wife and two daughters are hunkered down on Sunday to watch football — two Redskins fans and a Ravens fan. Suddenly, one Sunday, it dawns on me that I’m missing out on good family time, so I come back into the fold and ask how my team, the 49ers, are doing. Of course, they had a great season that year, going to the Super Bowl, although they lost to the Ravens. Accused of being a fair-weather fan, I immediately defend myself, reiterating that I’ve been a fan since childhood when John Brodie was their quarterback until the early ’70s — remember? Yes, before Joe Montana.
So, it was exciting when I found myself traveling to mecca itself this past week — no, not the pinnacle of Islamic worship, but rather, Super Bowl XLIX. There I witnessed not just a game, but an economy of scale. Distractions aside, at the center of each team were quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Tom Brady, who exemplify the best and the brightest the league has to offer both on the field and off. As a third-year quarterback with two Super Bowls under his belt, Wilson volunteers his time on a weekly basis at Seattle Children’s Hospital, while Brady, with four Super Bowl titles, supports the Boys & Girls Club of America and the Best Buddies organization, among others.
So as this game continues to attract fans of both genders and multiple races, religions and ages, it will be subject to increasing scrutiny as it matures both as a sport and as an institution. In the end it will culminate with two extraordinary teams exemplifying the highest athleticism, mental sharpness and sportsmanship — just as it should be, and you can bet that I’ll be watching.
Nelson Ginebra writes from Myersville. Email him at email@example.com.