“A coverage sack?” I was about to ask, “Are they anything like Hessian sacks?” It was a bitterly cold evening and I was sitting on literally the back row of Wembley stadium, feeling both confused and angry at the concept of this sport. It all started when I was walking down Wembley Way, where you expect that uniform colour of white or red, corrupted by just a few specks from away fans. But last Sunday I witnessed an unnatural sight; a sea of thirty-two colours flooding towards the stadium; it was like the coach driver had got confused and sent everyone to same game. It just wasn’t right, fans all around me were switching sides depending who was winning as if this wasn’t a sport, but some children’s party. Even if it was a stupid sport, it’s still supposed to be a war, and you don’t just switch sides during the middle of a war. Well, unless you’re Rudolf Hess.
It was then that I was interrupted by a burly man cheering and spluttering a chilli dog into my face. Had I missed something? I looked down at the scoreboard and found that no, I had not. On the field a bunch of players lay on the ground – the result of every play in American Football.
“Why is everyone cheering?” I asked my friend, who by now had joined the marauding cheers.
“They got a sack,” he replied. I stared at him vacantly, almost hearing the crunch as my eyelids blinked. “Defences sometimes send an extra defender – usually a linebacker or cornerback – to tackle the quarterback before he can get the ball beyond the line of scrimmage, but I’m just looking at the replay–yeah, the defensive backs’ coverage was good and four-man front just got too much pressure the offensive line and got to him. That was a coverage sack.”
There’s the problem with American football – too much mumbo-jumbo, like those dweeby kids who make up a secret language so that you have to be on the “inside” to know what they’re jabbering on about. They’ve made it as complicated as possible so you can be sitting there watching it, but yet, are you really watching it? Or are you just watching idiots in tights hit other idiots with tights. Let me tell you now, if I wanted to see that, I’d watch Robin Hood: Men In Tights. You’d never get this problem with football – proper football (I refuse to use the term soccer.) None of this fourth down and eleven gajjigers, five roly-polies and a jump through the hopscotch circuit to-go. Just football, where your only protection is a thin piece of plastic over your shins, which proves useless if a Geordie with metal spikes in the soles of his shoes lunges at you. Football, where referees accept being called every name under the sun, and why? Because they’re men. None of this dressing up as Footlocker employees and throwing yellow hankies on the field because number 67 on offence infracted the neutral zone – something that sounds more like something the crew of the Enterprise should be dealing with in Star Trek than on a sports field.
Rugby; now there’s a man’s game. Last Sunday I got up at 8am, grabbed a brewski from the fridge and sat down to watch the World Cup Final, and let me tell you, there’s a bunch of men who know how to do long-term damage to themselves. Screw later-life concussions, strokes and cauliflower ears, so long as they get to pound the hell of each other for eighty minutes and perhaps grab a crotch, then it’s worth it. That, and gaining the respect and admiration of the entire world — or at least the ex-commonwealth world, which, let’s be frank, are the sport’s only worthwhile places. At least we have the decency to invite the countries we don’t like to the tournament so that it can be a ‘World’ cup. I mean, Samoa? Really? In America they have the sense to call themselves the National Football League, but then regularly play games in London (not in the USA) and Toronto (also not in the USA), while declaring the winners of the Super Bowl the World Champions. It’d be like me declaring myself World Champion of Handball because I didn’t invite anyone else to a tournament I held my garden.
During that final, New Zealand’s fly-half Aaron Cruden hyper-extended his knee, and after visiting the locker room for a few minutes was back out on the sidelines cheering his side on. Not like these American Football chumps, Junior Frankfurter, Jnr., who get carted off the field for bruising their finger – how they managed to injure themselves through their body armour is beyond me. No doubt they’ll be in the locker room, straight on the phone to their lawyer to sue to the opposition players.
Sure, football isn’t perfect; we have our fair share of racist slurs, and diving, and riots, and insubordination, and refereeing mistakes, and corruption, and bankruptcy, and moral bankruptcy, and general smokers, jokers and tokers – but let me ask you this, what would football be without it? In what world would Paolo di Canio shove a referee to the ground and people look back at it and think, “Man, that was hilarious!” Or a world where Paolo di Canio could celebrate a goal in the Rome derby and make a fascist salute to the Rome fans, and for people to say, “Man, Paolo’s crazy!”
Some people – mostly sissies and people who don’t know what they’re talking about – would say diving has ruined football, but I prefer to think of it as using their initiative – isn’t that what all parents are trying to get their kids to do? They’re taking the law into their own hands and not hiding behind plated armour and helmets, lying down and accepting it when a decision goes against them.
Someone once told me that most sports were designed as war simulations, and sure, I can see that. American football is the Cold War. A whole lot of waiting around, trash-talking, patriotism and expectations that there are going to be explosions at some point, but in the end all you get is David Hasselhoff singing on the Berlin Wall. At least we got Rocky IV out of the Cold War.
But still, at least it isn’t Rugby League.