Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich
Purchase Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times here
Purchase Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times here
It all started with the Pony Express…
Okay, my ex-history-teacher of a husband (to clarify: “ex” being a modifier of history teacher and not husband) might take issue with that statement, as I am sure there was some type of postal delivery system long before North America was overrun with newbies, but the Pony Express is just so much more fun than whatever marathon-running postmen had to schlep mail across the hinterlands, rain or snow, sunshine or storm.
Regardless of where it started, we’ve got mail.
USPS has played varying roles in my life. I don’t remember getting much in the mail as a kid, other than maybe a yearly birthday card with a $10 bill stashed inside, from my grandma in Utah. I know I tried the pen pal thing a couple of times, but I don’t think we ever got passed the “What is your favorite color” and “Do you have any pets?” stage of correspondence before one or the other, or maybe both, gave up and moved on to chatting with friends we could see and whose names we could actually pronounce.
Mail was pretty much a non-entity in my life until I moved to college. Then, for the first time, it took on a vital role in my daily life. I lived in an on-campus apartment with five other girls (that’s right- six girls in one apartment. Who ever thought that was a good idea must have been smoking something that was definitely not allowed within the terms of the Honor Code!) and one mail key, which hung on a nail by the backdoor, awaiting its daily trek to the metal box outside the building’s entrance. Each day, the box was checked religiously by whichever roommate was home when the afternoon mail drop happened. (Okay, any roommate except for Emily, who was terrorized by a Nordic witch figurine that sat atop our stove, which she swore looked like something out of a horror movie she had seen. With this knowledge in hand, that little doll ended up anywhere Emily might look, including, but not limited to, the mailbox, her section of the medicine cabinet, her drawer of the fridge or her nightstand. (Remember, this was an apartment with six girls. *Everything* was divided up, from kitchen cabinets to shower shelf space to phone availability.) I remember getting a couple of care packages while a freshman, the first one including brownies, wrapped in tin foil, from my little brother who was a freshman in high school at the time. Who knew the kid could bake?
Then I moved to the Dominican Republic to do a semester abroad. (Tough gig, eh? We had classes four days a week and then a three-day weekend to hit the beach…I mean, study. Needless to say, this pasty-white girl from Idaho came home with the closest thing she’d ever had to a tan. Maybe I need to get Thad to bid on a Caribbean post for our next tour. It would take four months to get a working start on some color, but after two years, I might actually have a decent melatonin level!) There, mail was a different beast. Not only did it take weeks to come, but when it did come, the school often held it for a week or two before letting us know we had a letter. Care packages were expensive to send and it was probable that, if they did arrive, would arrive a little lighter than when they were shipped. Let’s just say Dominican customs inspectors always had the best housewarming and birthday gifts for any event to which they were invited. But, while packages may have been hard to come by, I did get loads and loads of letters, all of which are still stashed away in shoe boxes, sitting in a long-term storage in Fredericksburg, Virginia, until further notice. (I hate to date myself here, but my Dominican days corresponded with the budding days of the internet. I had an email address, through Juno, but rarely used it and connections, even at the university, were nearly impossible to find. Hand-written letters were still the status quo.)
After coming home from the DR and getting married, mail suddenly took on the role of being the bearer of bills and ads. In the years pre and post- Peace Corps, I was doing well if I checked my mailbox a couple of times a week. I was just in no hurry for that college tuition statement, water bill or JC Penny’s flyer.
But then, the mail once again became key when we moved to China with the Peace Corps. Yes, we had a decent internet connection and I was in touch with family and friends via email on a regular basis, but the actual mail meant not only gifts at birthday and Christmas, but it created our on-campus English language library. With Middle Kingdom resources being scarce, nearly all 1000 of our English books and magazines came from the States, shipped by our friends and family and those of our colleagues. The Book Nook, a mini-institution in the backwaters of Gansu, would not have been possible without the USPS.
(Don’t get me started on the Chinese end of these transactions. It is an understatement to say the mail women in Chengxian hated me. Every time I got the tissue-like slip of paper saying I had a box at the local post office, I would skitter down there as soon as I had a break in my class schedule, excited for a new box of books to add to our growing collection. And every time, once I was there, I would have to go the rounds to get my box. Sometimes the women couldn’t find the package, even though I had the slip in hand. Sometimes they were taking their afternoon rest, so I was told to come back, even though technically the post office was open. Sometimes I had to get an official red stamp from some random person at the school to verify it was for me. Sometimes I had to show my Chinese ID card. And sometimes, the woman just didn’t feel like helping me and would shoo me away to come back and try another time. The only great thing about our local post office was they had glasses on a string. That’s right! Banks in America have pens on strings, but in China, our post office had these awesome, giant glasses on a string, I guess so if you needed reading lenses, you would have them available to properly complete your paperwork.)
Now that we are back in China for round two of the Zhongguo lifestyle, mail again plays a central role in our lives. Mail days are Tuesdays and Fridays, which are the afternoons when I eagerly await the email from our mail room saying “There is a little mail today.” With this pronouncement, there is a bit of a mass exodus out to the mail room for officers and families alike to collect their goods. Boxes are piled on the floor, magazines and letters are stashed in surname labeled bins and the mail room worker knows us all by name.
This last week as a particularly successful mail week for the Ross household. We received our bargained for package from the Hello Kitty queen. (Click here to read about the tough fought negotiations with a four-year old that ended up with me sending two rather large boxes of goods to her in exchange for some random items fished out of her toy box. I think I need to work on my business acumen.) This large padded envelope included the owed Hello Kitty-riding-a-dolphin picture, the Hello Kitty pencil left over from Valentine’s Day, and the McDonald’s Happy Meal giraffe. Plus, it had bonus items such as piñata candy that may or may not have been stashed in my nephew’s shorts (whatever, I’m eating those Smarties!), a couple of friendship bracelets and a beaded necklace. Not too bad of a haul from Idaho.
And then today I got a long-coveted package- one that I’ve been talking about ordering since draft day. (Click here for my day-after-draft post.) My Shea McClellin Chicago Bears (#99) jersey arrived in the Friday mail pile! Granted, the “small” jersey is nearly big enough for me to belt and wear as a dress, but I’ll be rocking that thing all over China in the next few months. (Stay tuned for those pictures!) While I am normally a Ravens fan, as they are the only American professional sports team to be named after a literary work, I’ve had to shift some loyalty to the Bears to support Shea, one of my former 8th grade English students from Marsing, Idaho. I will be proudly sporting that massive navy blue jersey this season, putting in a good word for him all around our Land of Pandas and doing more than a fair bit of bragging about a small-town kid working his tail off to achieve his NFL dreams. (Of course, I can’t take any credit for his football skills, but I would like to hope that he always uses “their/there/they’re” and “your/you’re” correctly!)
The internet may have created a quicker and simpler way than horse-back delivery to keep in touch with friends and family, but nothing will replace the kid-on-Christmas-morning feeling of cutting in to a box that has come half-way around the world. Whether said package is filled with Hostess chocolate pudding pies (Dad??) or a gift that always ends up back where it came from (Matt??), little is better than seeing a box on the floor of the mail room with ROSS written in big letters along its side.
The big day has arrived. It is Super Bowl Sunday. (Or Super Bowl Monday for our soon-to-be-colleagues in Chengdu. I hear there is a pre-work party with bagels and muffins!) After a crushing season in the Fantasy Football league, losing a playoff spot for Playing in Stilettos by just one game, I am ready to wrap this season up.
The Super Bowl is a fascinating slice of Americana pie. A section of our pop culture is put on display for the world to see, from the massive build-up to a game that never seems to live up to its hype to the obsession over commercials hawking everything from beer and pizza to luxury cars and stock portfolios to the constant complaints about how bad the halftime show is/was/will be. (Who could the league hire that wouldn’t draw endless complaints? I mean really. When you’ve got half of the American population watching the same concert, how will you ever come up with an artist that satisfies all of them? You won’t!)
I, too, will be watching the match-up between the teams today. (Who are they again? Seriously. That is the level of attention I pay. This may be why the lovely Stilettos didn’t make the playoffs, yet again, this year.) While I don’t follow the NFL closely, I do have a few suggestions for ways to improve this end-of-season party.
My proposal takes the end reward for winning the game and works backwards to reach a better form of entertainment, leading to that prize. What coveted award is given out to the victorious team? Rings. Big, expensive, diamond-laden, sparkly baubles to adorn the giant sausage-like fingers of the players who propelled their team to the number one spot in the NFL. We are talking jewelry here people.
I propose, if jewelry is what is at stake, we come up with a contest more fitted to that trophy. Much like the Miss America candidates who vie for a tiara, I think the professional football players should also show us their jewelry-worthy skills. So, with that in mind, here is what I propose:
Super Bowl Sunday still exists, but rather than settling the dispute with sweaty piles of gigantic dudes fighting over a piece of animal hide, they give us a fashion show. That’s right. A fashion show. It is a fitting way to earn their rings.
I suggest the teams go head to head in four categories- home, away, wild card and mascot. Each round will serve as a quarter, so the Super Bowl maintains its roots in football. The home outfits will be modeled by the offensive players, while the away outfits are donned by the defensive players. (On a personal level, I would suggest teams shy away from the white pants. Something metallic or dark does a much better job of hiding that embarrassing jock-strap line.) Those quarters are pretty easy to picture, and possibly pretty easy on the eye, depending on who the reigning quarterbacks are. The wild card round will be shown on the special teams players. These outfits are determined individually by each team. They could be throw-back uniforms or ones worn during October’s profusion of pink games or they could be something more creative, like futuristic uniforms. Of course, the fourth and final round goes to the mascots. These guys will take to the runway to demonstrate not only their level of team spirit, but also the type of mascot will be judged. (Personally, I am a fan of the weird balloon ones that can jiggle and bounce around, but as I am not an NFL sanctioned referee, I don’t get a vote.)
Obviously, the team which scores the most points overall, after the completion of all four quarters, will be declared the winner and be presented with the coveted Super Bowl rings. They will be bling-tastic, just as they are now. The winning team can still choose an MVP who will announce they are going to Disney World and could be featured not only on the front of the Wheaties box, but his face could also shine on the cover of Glamour.
The rest of the NFL season will stay the same, with kick-offs and run-backs and field goals and sacks and interceptions and all the other football-y stuff that makes up each game. The only change to the league’s procedure would be to the season finale and how those players earn the most sought-after prize in American sports- the Super Bowl ring.
Think about it. We are an hour away from watching dozens of grown men battle one another for a diamond encrusted bit of beautiful glory. Runway show- it could work!
The quickly creeping up end of October also means Thad’s birthday is just around the corner. Since he is slightly traumatized from his childhood days of birthday gifts wrapped in black and orange and filled with miniature candy bars, I figured I had better not get him anything with cute pumpkins or witches on it. I thought about adorable bat-covered goods, but decided a winged gift of another kind was more in order- tickets to the Eagles/Redskins game. Long a fan of the Philly team, this was the perfect opportunity for him to see them in person with just a jaunt up the blue line.
This was not Thad’s first Eagles game (he and Jeremy went to one in Seattle a few years ago, during which Shannon and I opted to partake of the downtown shopping opportunities instead), but it was mine. I have watched countless hours of pigskin frolicking on TV over the years, but this was my first live NFL experience.
The game itself was a success. The Eagles had several interceptions and enough points to come out on top as the final seconds of the game ticked away. Although the game was at FedEx field, home of the Washington Redskins (how is this an appropriate mascot?!?), I was surprised by the large number of Eagles fans in attendance. It was the makings of a massive flock to say the least! Our seats were in a section that was pretty even as far as red and green jerseys, so it seemed like every big play garnered both a standing ovation and a groan of despair.
Out of all the experiences at an NFL stadium, I was most astounded by the noise levels! When we watch football on TV, the announcers are always yammering on about the “12th Man” and its impact on the game. I guess I always assumed they were full of bologna and just liked to hear the sound of their own voices, but after sitting through it, I think they may actually know what they are talking about. The Redskins fans sitting directly in front of us were next to a column that had a metal grating around it. The lovely man, whom I nicknamed “Kicky” for obvious reasons, took every possible opportunity to stand up and slam the heck out of that grate with his foot. That poor hunk of metal endured abuse when the defense needed to take a stand, when the offense made a fabulous play or just whenever Kicky felt some pent up rage. There was A LOT of that.
The only thing I can compare the stadium noise level to is an experience from a good many years back. When I was in the sixth grade, like all tweens of the time (keeping in mind that this was before the term tween even existed), New Kids on the Block were just about the greatest things going. I skated around the cement roller rink in Nampa innumerable times to catchy tunes like “Hanging Tough” and “The Right Stuff.” NKOTB posters covered the walls of the bedroom I shared with my older sister, Melyssa, and our cassette tape organizers always gave them top billing. The winter of that opening year of middle school, my Aunt Laurie decided to get my sister and I the most coveted gift for girls our age- tickets to the upcoming concert! Not only did she get us tickets, but they were second row, floor seat tickets!!! Melyssa and I couldn’t wait for the day of the concert to come and after an interminable wait, it arrived. We were bundled off to the big city of Boise for our first live concert. After fending off the pleas of middle aged women wanting to buy our seats, we were there, front and center. I remember little of the concert itself, but I do recall that the music was so loud that I could really only hear it by plugging my ears. I think my little sixth grade self lost a bit of hearing that evening! Although it probably wasn’t as bad as my memory recalls it, I remember the noise being excruciating.
New Kids on the Block and FedEx Field- more in common than one would imagine!
Game and noise level aside, there was one other thing that must be mentioned- the restrooms. Like at most large events, there was always a line in the ladies’ bathroom. The stadium had enough stalls though to keep things moving at a fairly decent clip. The problem arose once the waiting was over. The bathroom I went in had probably fifteen stalls in a row, but it quickly became clear that only maybe four of them were equipped with an all-important necessity- toilet paper! At this point, the banter between red jerseys and green jerseys quickly stopped and a solution made everyone members of the same team. A TP bucket brigade was formed! The folks with paper in their stalls began tearing of sections and passing it under the stalls. Each person passed it on until it reached the end, with another handful following it. As the passing was happening, the women still in line figured out what was going on and took matters into their own hands as well. When I stepped out of my stall, having been both a participant and a beneficiary of the brigade, I noticed that all of the ladies in line had paper towels in hand. (Paper towels are never a first choice, but there are worse options.) What an odd little happening in the middle of this crowded stadium…
Once the game came to an end, I gladly bid farewell to ol’ Kicky and silently wished him a sore foot in the morning. We made our way back to the Metro and crammed in to a corner of a blue line train for the forty-five minute ride back to Crystal City. Thad’s birthday gift ended up being a success- the Eagles came out with a win and he wasn’t inundated with orange and black covered knick-knacks!