The International Writers Magazine: REALITY CHECK
The NFL Stinks
in the Name of Chuck Bednarik is Wrong with Pro Football?
Three years ago former NY Giants quarterback Phil Simms told me
the National Football League was "rule crazy". He used
those words more than once in an interview I did with him for
a national magazine and was reminded of recently when a young
woman writing a book needed permission to quote it. She wasnt
interested in the "rule crazy" part per se, but rereading
the piece got me thinking about my love of pro football since
childhood, then my love of gambling since later in childhood,
and then my love of sports writing from my youthful reporter days.
All of which has waned considerably.
went on to say that this over-officious jostling of the NFL rulebook
was more damaging than over-expansion or free agency or anything sports
writers and gamblers are always whining about. I listened to him say
it, and say it again, and when I transcribed the thing I more or less
ignored it as the ravings of an ex-player, or more precisely an ex-quarterback
who could not enjoy the advantages of the fascist penalty restrictions
on defensive backs that make nice signal quarters like Peyton Manning
get laughably compared to giants like Johnny Unitas or even an incorrigible
madman like Injun Joe Kapp, both of whom would have thrown 70 touchdowns
in this era.
As it is Manning broke Dan Marinos single-season mark of 48 with
49 touchdown- passes this season, while his insane offensive brethren
trashed half the NFL record book in the gaudy process. All this complaining
by Simms seemed silly in 2001, when defensive backs actually had a point
of being on the field, and defensive ends and linebackers could still
maim QBs as a job description. Even though when Marino was running amok
in the early 80s the restrictions on defenses were a joke. Lord
knows if Joe Namaths receivers could run free with no fear of
someone like say Jack Tatum paralyzing them for life, he would have
thrown 100 TDs in 14 games in the mid-60s.
Of course, I abstain from comparing Broadway Joe to these milquetoast
wanna-bes today. Namath was a god and the coolest man on the planet.
A nerd like Peyton Manning and that Neanderthal behind center for Pittsburgh
couldnt shine Joe Willies white shoes or maintain his kind
of Herculean liquor consumption while throwing for 4,000 yards in a
wind tunnel like Shea Stadium with sadistic beasts like Ted Hendricks
and Bubba Smith trying to gouge out his eyes and snap what tendons he
had left in his knees after 40 or so operations. I always promised my
contemporaries that I wouldnt end up being one of these old-timers
that wax poetic about grid iron heroes like Frank Gifford, who was also
once portrayed as the coolest guy on the planet. He was the 1950s
All-American poster boy before his unceremonious beheading by a homicidal
lunatic called Chuck Bednarik, who late one Sunday afternoon committed
one of the most heinous crimes of assault on a playing field in American
sports history at Yankee Stadium with my father in attendance, who swore
with many of his friends that day a motionless Gifford lie dead on the
But Gifford was not dead. And neither is Peyton Manning the best quarterback
ever, regardless of what these hipster comedians at ESPNs Teenage
Boy Central scream. And, by the way, apparently I lied about not complaining
that "in my day" blah blah blah.
After awhile everyone who once loved the purity of sports learns that
the blindness of point spreads is severe. Paying attention to the nuances
of the game, the little things, this "game of inches" these
vacuous suits are always wailing about in the television booths are
lost on the hard-core gambler. For years I was one of them. I hardly
noticed the quality decline of overall play. I paid attention to the
numbers, the dollar signs. This year I decided to lay off the action.
Be responsible with my money and spend it on booze and antique furniture.
This was a mistake.
Its not unlike the Grateful Dead fan who had stopped doing acid
long enough to realize the band sucked or people suddenly seeing Paris
Hilton as an insufferable dummy. Reality bites. I heard someone say
that on a subway once. It wasnt Phil Simms, and it damn sure wasnt
But the fact is the NFL is damn near unwatchable.
Did you know that defensive players could no longer hit another with
their helmet? Or smack a quarterback in the head with any part of their
appendages? Did you also know that covering a receiver downfield means
merely running alongside of him until he burns past you with ungodly
speed and scores another in a long series of touchdowns that break every
Americans love scoring, sex, violence, and fried food.
Sigmund Freud said that. It was either Freud or John Poindexter, who
was Reagans national security adviser and a huge pro football
gambler. He was well known for jacking off to Washington Redskins broadcasts.
This was the 80s; the Skins were good and rich guys masturbated
hourly. Poindexter used football axioms to smear all sorts of trouble
on The Gipper. But Reagan survived to play another down, because Poindexter
was a team player and spent six months in prison for "defrauding
Poindexter and Freud were well aware of human nature and big-time pro
sports. But they didnt respect the game. The vile, pointless beauty
of the game. Not this video game, flag-football, beer-keg version the
suits on Park Avenue tell you is the NFL.
This is bullshit, like the replay rule or the two-point conversion,
which has rendered NFL head coaches impotent and silly. They dont
have enough to worry about? They have to be mathemeticians and officals?
Meanwhile we sit and listen to John Madden describe the same images
over and over again like the denoument of Chinese Water Torture.
And what the fuck is this 8-8 teams winning divisions? I know we celebrate
the mediocrity of our presidents in this country, but pro teams coming
in at even get to call themselves winners? Total, umitigated bullshit.
And I wont accept it. I dont have to accept it. Our boys
are dying in Iraq for this?
Ill wager on it.
But I dont have to like it.
© James Campion Jan 7th 2005
all rights reserved