NFL: The great American sports brand

March 18, 2013

Ok. My turn. Hut Hut Hut. Three words that are in the American psyche. Here are another three: Super Bowl Sunday.

Last week’s blog mentioned that NASCAR was the greatest American pastime. That was quite an ultimatum and claim by such an impassioned fan and fellow colleague. I must admit, I have attended a NASCAR race where I was mesmerized by the fan loyalty, astonished by the sights and sounds, and overwhelmed by the power and speed of the cars. Nevertheless, ultimatums only work in checkered flags and play clocks. Let’s leave the pits for a few moments and come explore my sidelines odyssey.

My indulgence isn’t a dirty little secret or a blind professional admiration of the “best branded sport in America”. I love a simple game and a sport that is played on playgrounds, dirt fields, college campuses and billion dollar stadiums across all of America. I enjoy football. The N.F.L., the professional extension of my loved sport, has offered many hours of excitement, drama, joy, and heartache experienced with my family and friends.

Now my family growing up will never be described as American royalty. Remember the Kennedys? We have all seen the home movies of the Kennedy family playing touch football. The quarterback is a US president, the receiver a US senator, creating a very high-powered pick-up game.

My family has no presidents or senators or even a councilperson. We do have home movies of our family playing touch football. We have expressions of joy, silliness and good ole sibling competiveness. We are playing football and enjoying the thrill of catching a pass, screaming “touchdown!” and spiking the ball in the grass. We all imagine we are the pros on any given football Sunday.

In helmets and shoulder pads that seem way too large for their pre-k bodies, the early autumn brings thousands of children all across America to the gridiron. As a mom it warms my heart to see chubby dads teaching the next generation three-point football stances, throwing the ball and figuring out where one finds the line of scrimmage. Some children will absolutely hate it and some will love it. Whatever the emotion or inclination, all of them will remember the experience.

Eli Manning was talking in private to his brother Peyton after the Giants won the Super Bowl. As private as a post Super Bowl locker room can be, the two brothers were discussing the final Giant touchdown. Within earshot of the media mics and cameras, the brothers were completing each other’s sentences about game strategy. I could see the joy that one brother had for the other’s success. I turned to my husband in our den. I was about to mention how lovely it was to witness such sincere fraternal love live on television in the moment.

I was silent. My husband was crying. The pomp and circumstance of the biggest one day sporting commercial TV event in American society was transfigured into an intimate moment. Two brothers sharing pride in the success they had attained in the game they loved.

So does NASCAR have such moments? Of course it does. I will not deny. I will even venture to say that NASCAR’s speedways probably have equal moments of drama and theater of any N.F.L. arena. The lure of spectacle is undeniable and unavoidable: yet the spectacle of moments isn’t enough.

Did you love or despise the captain of your high school football team? Did you enjoy or ridicule Homecoming weekend? Did you ever consider hosting a Super Bowl party? Were you in the band or color guard during half time? Did you ever have someone explain the Super Bowl office pool to you? Did you Google Victor Cruz’s photo after hearing a Sandy Hook victim’s family wanted the child to be buried with the Giants’ jersey? The cognizance of such questions reveals something deeper than a mere pastime.

These questions raise our consciousness to the reality that football has always been in our lives. Many of us did not ask for it. We did not seek out the arena or spectacle of moments. It had permeated our lives through our childhood playgrounds, in our home movies, during Friday night lights, on our college campuses, in our family dens.

The N.F.L. being the highest level of football reaps the benefit and perpetually saturates our American consciousness. The N.F.L. is not the greatest American pastime. The N.F.L. is part of American life, and good or bad it is part of this fan’s life.

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