2:58am

Wed January 29, 2014
Sweetness And Light

America's Love Affair With Football Keeps Getting Stronger

Originally published on Wed January 29, 2014 12:49 pm

Football fandom simply overwhelms all other sports in America, growing not just merely super, but superior, from high school right on up to this Sunday's quasi-religious festival — which celebrates our adoration of the sport as much as the sport itself.

There are multiple reasons to account for this increased devotion to football, but curiously, there's no balancing diminution in interest in other sports. Baseball may no longer be the national pastime, but it's doing quite well. Sports fandom is not necessarily a zero-sum game. It's just that football's popularity grows and grows, funguslike.

And starting next year, when the colleges have a real football playoff, a whiff of January Madness, the interest in football is bound to rise to even higher heights.

But there may also be something of a counterintuitive aspect at play here, for whereas all we hear is about how rapidly things move today — how the news cycle never ends, how it's a turnover, throw-away world — the fact that football teams only play once a week sort of slows everything down.

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on this issue.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

According to Commentator Frank Deford, on Sunday most eyes will be on East Rutherford because Americans' devotion to football just keeps getting stronger.

FRANK DEFORD: We're fascinated by lists and ratings, top tens, especially by anything that makes a big jump, like, say, shooting up from Number seven to Number three. However, we sometimes overlook it when whatever is number one just gets to be a more solid number one. There's never any one-plus in the ratings.

Such is the case with football, which now simply overwhelms all other sports in America, growing not just merely super but superior, from high school right on up to this Sunday's quasi-religious festival which celebrates our adoration of the sport as much as the sport itself.

There're multiple reasons to account for this increased devotion to football. But curiously, I don't see a balancing diminution in interest in other sports. Baseball, for example, may no longer be the national pastime, but it's doing quite well, thank you. Sports fandom is not necessarily a zero-sum game. It's just that football popularity grows and grows, fungus-like, and for sure, more. Starting next year, when the colleges have a real football playoff, a whiff of January Madness, the interest in football is bound to rise to even higher heights.

Its gospel, of course, that football is both the perfect game to bet on and to be rendered on a television set. And the improvement in TV quality is surely another reason the sport continues to grow its appeal. But I think there's also something of a counterintuitive aspect at play here, as well. For whereas all we hear is about how rapidly things move today, how the news cycle never ends, how it's a turnover, throw-away world, the fact that football teams only play once a week, sort of slows everything down.

We don't much anticipate games in other sports. They're just too many of them, one right after another. Ah, ah, but football. Football still has foreplay. But wait, you say, football has suffered such terrible publicity with all the revelations about the players sustaining brain damage. However, I rather suspect that the emphasis on football violence has only made it more popular.

So much of the attraction of the game has been the charm of danger, the licensed brutality. Since we appreciate better now how much of their health and their future that our football players truly are risking, it provides us with an even greater vicarious thrill. No, we're probably too ashamed to admit that that seduces us, but now that we understand that football is not just a game but a reality show about the reality of life for the participants, it makes this annual culminating Sunday service even more of an American spectacular. And appropriately this year, even the Statue of Liberty itself will just be a neighborhood visual in the shadow of the pigskin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford can be heard every Wednesday, right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.