According to the law, or when the ball to throw;
And drive it to the gole, in squadrons forth they goe;
And to avoid the troupes (their forces that forlay);
Through dykes and rivers make, in the rubustious play…
– Michael Drayton, c. 1590
Last night’s Super Bowl was, I think you’ll agree, a pretty good football game. So why did it leave me feeling so unsatisfied? Blame Christina Aguilera, if you want, for fumbling the National Anthem. Or blame the ads: the top-rated spot of the evening, according to USA Today’s trusty Ad Meter, featured a pug running headlong into a glass door. Or, better yet, blame the growing disconnect between us and the players themselves: our main ‘human interest’ story this time around involved a man’s comeback from his second rape charge, and was followed closely by the ‘story’ of a million-dollar head of hair.
But then, too, there’s the fact that it’s getting awfully hard to tell the difference between the real Bowl and its annual Madden video-game simulation. And the fact that most of the crowd at Cowboys Stadium seemed to be watching the game on TV like the rest of us — though unlike the rest of us, their TV was eleven thousand square feet. Can you blame them? Troy Polamalu’s hair was a hundred and sixty feet across during closeups. And in HD. Who wants to watch the real Troy? The whole experience might as well have been beamed in, like the Black Eyed Peas, from the year 3008. Small wonder that a rumor quickly spread that the Peas’ guest ax-slinger was not the real Slash. A wigged impostor? A cyborg? A hologram?
So despite the opinion of many that the good guys won, last night did little to fix the NFL’s much-talked-about Image Problem. After all, they’ve still got coaches tripping opponents on the sidelines, players doling out permanent brain damage on the field, and billionaires squabbling with millionaires over their billions and millions, in an ongoing dustup that might just scotch the whole 2011 season. It’s clear that professional football could use a few changes. Fortunately, I’ve put some thought into it and am prepared to offer some recommendations.
Here is my idea: it’s time for the NFL to go back to its roots. No, not its merger-era, Broadway Joe, Johnny-U roots. I’m talking about before that, before the Bears and the Colts, before their illustrious predecessors the Decatur Staleys and the Dayton Triangles, before even the league’s humble birth at the Hupmobile dealer in Canton. I’m talking about its real roots, in the rough-and-tumble, equal-opportunity, ever-evolving ball games that have been played in alleys and pastures and clearings for untold thousands of years. I’ve taken it upon myself to do the research, and I’ve narrowed it down to a select set of rules and guidelines, borrowed from these venerable sports, that Commissioner Goodell would be wise to consider.
1. Teams should not be so arbitrary. If I were a Bostonian, how much allegiance could I really muster to a guy (Tom Brady) who grew up near San Francisco, went to the University of Michigan, married a girl from Brazil, and is building a house in Brentwood? Now, the Up’ards versus the Down’ards, based on which side of town players hailed from — that would be a compelling contest. Or how about the Married Men versus the Bachelors? That would make for riveting entertainment and social commentary.
2. While we’re at it, something must be done about team names. Lions and Eagles are boring, Patriots and Chargers are silly, and the less said about the Texans, Browns, and Bills, the better. Wouldn’t you be more excited to watch the White Cockatoos take on the Black Cockatoos? Or the Long-necked vs. Short-necked Turtles?
3. 11 men per side is an awfully severe limitation, and it means that only the tiniest fraction of a fraction of athletes will ever set foot on a professional field. Why cap it at all? If spectacle is what the league is after, it’d be hard to beat a 1000-on-1000 game in Cowboys Stadium.
4. Then again, the stadium itself is a major limitation, isn’t it? 100 yards of flat grass is for sissies. Let ’em play in the streets and fields. Make ’em clamber over the rooftops and whack through the bush. One of the end zones can be in the sea, if need be. Or better yet, put the end zone in the balcony of your opponent’s parish church. Higher stakes = better TV.
5. Speaking of churches, popes should be allowed, even encouraged, to suit up and play.
6. If teams are to be expanded, we’ll certainly need to add to the list of player positions. Fullbacks and tight ends and linemen, meet Lords, Fools and Boggins. The Fool, in particular, with his whip and bran-filled sock, will have the potential to be an exciting game-changer.
7. NFL analysts make much of the fact that the slippery Super Bowl ball, encrusted with commemorative decals, serves as an X-factor for Big Game quarterbacks. I’m all for X-factors, but again, why stop there? How about boiling the thing overnight in animal fat? Along the same lines, how about rubbing the players down in mustard oil? They’ll be naked, of course.
8. The ball itself should be made, whenever possible, from a kangaroo’s scrotum. Of course, not just any kangaroo will do; for official league balls, only ‘old man kangaroos’ should be considered acceptable.
8. Every playing surface should have a stream running through the middle of it.
9. Get rid of the game clock; it’s much too formal. Play can continue until dark, or abject exhaustion, whichever comes first. Timeouts should be unlimited, and play should be stopped whenever spectators want to touch the ball for luck or fertility. Should a player be injured, a cry of ‘Heddwch!‘ will stop play immediately.
11. Manslaughter is strictly forbidden and will result in a 15-yard penalty, assessed from the spot of the crime. Less severe penalties will result from transporting the ball in a motor vehicle, concealing the ball in a rucksack, or venturing into a burial ground.
12. Upon winning the game, the victorious team will visit each public house in its home town, immerse the game ball in a tankard of beer, and distribute the beer to all present. (This rule may need to be reconciled somehow with #8.)
So there you have it, Mr. Goodell. If you really want to make football relevant again — and after the lockout, you’ll need to — I suggest you start right here. After all, there’s nothing that folks respond to better than some good, old-fashioned, democratic, well-oiled fun.