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Football not the only game in town (11/02/2003)
By Janet Lewis Burns
I'd just as soon pass on tackling a column about football. I'd rather butt heads with poets and prophets in a flowering field of dreams, heady with masterstroke, no helmets required.

On a picture-perfect Sunday in October, I headed out to my turf, Eagle Bluff near Lanesboro. I packed my van with my writing bag, camera, thermos of hot African black tea, Pearson field guides, and my treasured talisman, my late father-in-law's pearly handled jackknife.

The serene area was deserted. Only one car of elderly folks edged past me as I huffed and groaned up the incline to my van. From open windows I could hear, you guessed it, the spirited radio announcer's play by play over the din of rebel rousers. Their bumper sticker read, "Friends don't let friends wear cheese-heads." They left me in a cloud of dust, their purple and gold flag bobbing blindly in the breeze. There's no fan like an old fan!

The thought of being stranded here came to mind. If I would sprain an ankle or encounter a wild animal, who would miss me during halftime, or launch a search party afterwards, while glued to witless announcers unmercifully hashing over every play?

I can see the headlines now: Writer down on the trail! Wild game refuge proves to be downfall of "gentle manipulations" advocate. A bad call for Burns, time out for the season, confined to her bedroom during all televised sports events.

I was disappointed that there was nobody around to bamboozle, in the woods where the fake people sit on chairs around a pretend campfire. When I had first seen them, years back, I was startled out of my wits; they look so real! Shoot! There was no one on the trail to scare out of their Viking jersey or ridiculous green war paint...interference on the play!

Poet Sharon Doubiago addressed ball players in her 1986 book, "The Football Players and the Poet: Mother and Child Reunion." She muses about the pigskin athlete "who comes back transformed from the mutilating experience to show the world how." "Is this what I birthed and raised my child for? Football? What would my son be, with his perfect giant body, in a perfect society?" "What is the function of this game for the spectators? Why do Americans love football?" Beats me!

Out in public, non-NFL fans are being discriminated against. Shopping in a "ghost store," where checkouts were deserted, I was drawn to the buzz of radio commentary and a light flickering down the Martha Stewart winter collection aisle. Somewhere, all personnel were otherwise occupied.

"My kind" enter a pub only to be intimidated by a sign under the large screen TV: "This is a smoke-free building...except during football games. Talk other than NFL lingo is prohibited." Never mind the hamburger and fries! The cook and the bartender are glued to the fifth television in the corner. Help yourself to the beer and pretzels! Eat crow.

Guess who's attributed for the saying, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing?"' Vanderbilt University football coach Red Sanders was the originator of the phrase in 1948. It seems former Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi has been falsely credited for that version of this remark.

In all fairness, Lombardi explained, "What I said is that ‘Winning is not everything - but the effort to win is,'" Ahuh. This was disputed in Bob Rubin's 1973 "Green Bay Packers," which quotes Lombardi's opening talk on the first day of training camp in 1959, using the initial wording. We may never know the truth. I lean toward Grantland Rice's line, from his 1941 book of poems: "...not that you won or lost - but how you played the Game."

In all honesty, it's a lonesome situation, to go through life without a pet team. It's like sitting in the woods with fake campers and their marionette expressions, up at Eagle Bluff's cold campfire, and talking to the squirrels.

The butt stops here. Play Ball! 


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