Can’t pass up this game |

Can’t pass up this game

So what is it that makes watching mercenaries run, pass and kick on Sunday afternoons (not to mention that all-American of events, “Monday Night Football”) so compelling that grown men use more oil-based products on their faces and bellies before a game than the average teen-age girl does in an entire month?

Why do such places as the South Stands at old Mile High Stadium or “The Dog Pound” in Cleveland exist? Why do we deify these gladiators of the gridiron? If aliens from Alpha Centauri were observing these conclaves, they might wonder how our society evolved beyond the primitive use of stone tools.

Has football become religion in this country, or is it just a harmless diversion?

We’re a mobile society, and our extended families tend to be dispersed from coast to coast. Couple that with the fact most folks hardly know their next-door neighbors and it seems quite logical that for many people football brings a sense of belonging and a sense of community.

However briefly, participating as a “fan” gives many of us a reason to rally around each other in a common pursuit. Besides, it gives many of us something to talk about on Monday mornings.

Aside from an occasional mild fracas in the stands or the infrequent tossing of refuse onto the field, most American football crowds are relatively well behaved. Contrast that with the world of soccer, where players and referees have been attacked and injured by fans, spectators have been stabbed and beaten, and where tear gas and rubber bullets are as common as hot dogs and peanuts at Wrigley Field.

The infamous “Soccer War” of 1969 erupted between Honduras and El Salvador when the soccer match played by two nations during that year’s World Cup exacerbated their ongoing political disagreements. While not a war of continental proportions, 3,000 were killed and 6,000 wounded!

What many of us are not aware of is that football (the European version) has been associated with violence since its beginnings in 13th century England. Medieval football matches involved hundreds of players and were essentially pitched battles between the young men of rival villages and towns – often used as opportunities to settle old feuds, personal arguments and land disputes. What we see today is a natural outgrowth of those attitudes.

Although a much more disciplined game was introduced to continental Europe in the early 1900s, it’s ironic that the only periods in history that have been relatively free from soccer-related violence were the war years.

From England to Turkey, from Denmark to Italy and throughout South and Latin America, violence is a part of the landscape of soccer – but why?

In America, most of the “violence” takes place on the field of play and not in the stands.

A logical question to ask is why football fans behave in a more civilized fashion than soccer fans? I suspect that cultural differences play a significant role in this phenomenon. However, after watching the World Cup on TV this past summer, I was absolutely astounded at the passion and intensity associated with soccer, which I’ve now come to accept as truly the “world’s sport.”

But living as we do between the Atlantic and Pacific, football stadiums remain our cathedrals. So perhaps a little face painting and outfitting oneself in ridiculous costumes (ever watch an Oakland Raiders game?) isn’t such aberrant behavior after all. Actually, it’s kind of amusing.

Personally, I find it reassuring to know that we don’t need to put up chain-link fences to separate opposing spectators. And beyond a few obnoxious types, American fans are genuinely “simpatico” during our sporting events.

So let the games begin! Participate in your office pool; accept no phone calls on Monday nights between 7and 10; wear your team’s colors to the Safeway or City Market on Sunday after church; buy those orange and blue cookies and let the traditions of football “American Style” begin.

After all, regardless of the “fan”-atics and revelers, most of what occurs on Sunday afternoons, is nothing more than a harmless seasonal obsession.

Butch Mazzuca of Singletree writes a weekly column for the Daily.

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