The End Of Football (As We Know It)

Russell has a pretty good eye for a trend.  Recently he was heard to boldly predict that — notwithstanding record ratings and fantasy football websites and huge sales of t-shirts, team jerseys, and hats — the NFL is on the down slope and, ultimately, doomed.

Why?  Injuries, of course.  The players are simply too big, too strong, and moving too fast.  The result is countless players sidelined with concussions, destroyed shoulders, buckled knees, and other year-ending and career-ending injuries — and in the case of concussions, potential future health consequences that are dire, indeed.  Already there is discussion about changing the rules of the game — specifically, to get rid of kickoffs, where players run into each other at full ramming speed — to try to lessen the injury toll.

Russell predicts a ripple effect.  Parents will decide that their kids shouldn’t play football because it’s just too dangerous.  High schools and middle schools will stop offering football because of liability concerns, just as many high schools have forsworn traditional track and field events like the pole vault, the javelin, and the discus because of liability risks.  It will be tougher for colleges to give up football, because it is both a moneymaker and a huge spur to alumni pride and endowment fund donations, but after some horrible injuries and crushing lawsuits take their toll, colleges, too, will begin to drop the game.  And then . . . who will feed the NFL pipeline?  Samoans?  Russians?  Australians?  Kids from poor families who see football as their only chance to get out of a situation of extreme poverty?

And it’s starting already.  CBS News reported today that, in the past five years, the number of kids playing football in high school has dropped by 25,000.  With a few more big-money concussion lawsuits, and a few more high profile injuries and even deaths, the number of schools dropping football will only increase.

I think Russell’s right on this.  I really enjoy watching football, but you simply can’t ignore the fact that, in seemingly every professional game, players are carted off the field or are being given concussion examinations.  The injury impact on college ball isn’t quite as bad, but with the ever-greater emphasis on strength and conditioning and increasing speed more devastating hits, and more resulting injuries, are inevitable.  So what do you do?  Prevent super-big, super-fast guys from playing?  Blame the protective gear that can be weaponized — like plastic helmets — and go back to the leatherhead days?

If you like football, the reality might be:  enjoy it while it lasts.

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The Air Guitar Time Machine

I probably first played air guitar when I was 13 or 14, after we moved from Akron to Columbus.  We were living in a bigger house and I had gotten my own room, which I equipped with a radio and with the family’s hand-me-down record player, a cheap and unsteady Panasonic unit with plastic speakers.  In that little enclave of my own, I really started to discover rock music beyond The Beatles and The Monkees.

Like many teenaged boys, I was drawn to the guitar gods of the day — Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, and others, the slouching, long-haired titans who delivered the intricate, crushing solos that kicked your spirits into another gear and managed to look uber-cool while doing so.  I saw clips of their performances on the late-night music shows and how they looked while playing.

So, was it really so surprising that, when you put a song like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven or Cream’s Crossroads or the Rolling Stones’ Monkey Man on that flimsy Panasonic turntable and felt the surge of energy that those songs inevitably produced, a little air guitar solo would surface?  When you were in the grip of those songs, you had to do something to participate, and the choices boiled down to playing air drums with the John Bonhams and Ginger Bakers and Keith Moons of the world — or playing air guitar.  I chose air guitar, even though I had no idea what I was doing and whether my chord-fingering on the air fretboard and picking and strumming on the air strings bore any relation to guitar-playing reality, and even though I knew I looked silly doing it.  It just felt like the right thing to do, and it was fun, besides.

It still does, and still is.  Even now, more than 40 years later, if you put me alone in a room and start playing Derek and the Dominos’ Key To The Highway or Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water or Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Call Me The Breeze, the impulse to play a little air guitar (and in the latter case, a little air keyboards, too) and feel like a kid again while doing so will be irresistible.  Those songs are like a kind of time machine that transports me back to that poster-filled room with the scratchy Panasonic unit playing at the loudest decibel level I dared, and my guess is that the same is true for many of us fifty-something guys.

It’s nice to know that, lurking under the extra pounds and the grey hair and the aching back, there’s a little bit of that teenager energy and silliness still to be found.

Another Killer From Australia

Recently scientists announced that they discovered a new species of snake that is native to Australia. And here’s a shocker:  the snake is a killer.

With the warm and fuzzy name of Kimberley Death Adder, the newly discovered species is considered to be one of the most venomous snakes in the world.  It lies in wait, camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings, until an unwary victim stumbles into its area, and then it strikes and bites with its deadly fangs.  Before an antivenom was developed and made available, it killed or paralyzed about half of its human victims.

It’s no surprise, really, that the Kimberley Death Adder is one of the most dangerous snakes in the world.  In Australia, it’s par for the course.  Even though many Americans associate Australia with beer and charming accents, the world’s only country-continent is home to an extraordinary assortment of deadly creatures, ranging from man-eating Great White Sharks to killer crocodiles to venomous, paralyzing snails to huge birds with killer claws that can rip off an arm to loads of poisonous fish, jellyfish, and octopus species.  Even certain species of purportedly cuddly koalas can be deadly.  And, of course, Australia is well-represented on the top 10 deadly snake and top 10 venomous spider lists.  There’s a reason Crocodile Dundee carried around that huge knife.

Even though I’d probably be scared snotless the entire time I was there and would need to keep an eye out at all time for spiders, snakes, and dozens of other potential killers, I’d still like to visit Australia one day:  it just seems like the right thing to do.  I’ve wanted to check it out since Kish and I read In A Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson’s classic and hilarious book about his travels in Australia. Now there’s just one more creature waiting to knock me off when I finally make the long flight to the other side of the world.

When The Cab Ride From LaGuardia Sucks

I’ve been on the road a lot lately, with several in-and-out trips to New York City being part of the travel schedule.  New York City is a very cool place — once you get to the City itself.  Unfortunately, the cab ride in from LaGuardia usually bites.  It’s as if New York City planners decided that the best way to prepare someone for the rigors of Manhattan is to toughen them up and lower their expectations by giving them a painful ride into town.

IMG_7035I’m not the sort of person to get car sick, but Sunday night’s ride into Manhattan got me to the verge of spewing all of the old, crappy, duct-taped seats of my cab.  My driver was an angry guy (of course!) who had only two driving modes — maximum acceleration and jamming on the brakes, and he did both, alternatively, while cursing the traffic (which was heavy, of course) and gesturing angrily at the other drivers (who paid him no attention).

As a result, my fellow passenger and I were like those old Weeble toys, constantly rocked back and forth with the speeding and braking, lurching forward and careening backward and slamming into the seat behind.  Occasionally the driver modified his technique by changing lanes abruptly, so that we got that delightful unexpected lateral motion sensation, too.  Add to it all that the weather was hot, the cab had no air-conditioning, and the windows were cracked to lessen the heat factor — which only means that the back seat was filled foul-smelling, exhaust-laden air — and you will believe me when I tell you that, to put it mildly, the ride in to downtown really sucked.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course.  Our ride from Manhattan to LaGuardia this afternoon was reasonably pleasant, with a smooth, non-jarring ride and no death-defying lane changes or unhinged gestures.  It makes me wonder — once you get a cab license, in NYC, is there ever any random, anonymous testing to see whether you should still be ferrying passengers back and forth through some of the worst traffic conditions in the United States?  And is it any wonder that so many people prefer Uber, where you know something about your driver and how they have been rated by prior passengers?

Nightfall At The Freedom Tower

  
Our evening stroll also took us to the Freedom Tower, built on the footprint of the World Trade Centers.  I was here soon after 9/11, when recovery operations were still underway, and again when the memorial was complete but the building was still being constructed. I’m glad it is completed, although I’m not sure what the bat wing canopy signifies.

It is still not easy to be at this place, now 14 years later, but the fact that we have rebuilt sends a message.

The Bridge, After Dark

  
Last night after dinner the Red Sox Fan and I took a walk around the lower rim of Manhattan.  One of our stops was the South Street Seaport, which offers a dazzling view of the lighted Brooklyn Bridge.  It was a very cool area, with lots of people waiting for ferries and water taxis, and others — like us — just enjoying the night air and the scene.

Oysters, I Say!

  
Recently, I was at a restaurant with a colleague when I noticed oysters were on the menu.  “Do you eat oysters?” I inquired, politely.

“No,” she responded, somewhat stiffly.  “Frankly, they kind of disgust me.”

“Why?” I asked, innocently.

“Because they are gray and blobby and wiggly and squishy,” she explained.

I considered her apparent revulsion to oysters, and my duties as a fellow diner — and then I decided.  “Well, do you mind if I order some?”

“No,” she said with a slight shudder.

“Don’t mind if I do,” I said, and placed my order.  And with some fresh lemon juice and cocktail sauce — boy, those oysters were succulent!

Never let trivial social niceties stand in the way of good oysters, I say!