Baseball used to be America’s Game and it is easy understand why . Summer afternoons at the ballpark with the family , the green playing field , the crisp white uniforms , young boys scarfing their hot dogs as they dream of one day making it to the big leagues, Cracker Jack , the seventh inning stretch , the sharp crack of the bat as the ball flies out of the ballpark and the crowd erupts in a roar … it does reminds one of a Norman Rockwell painting , doesn’t it ?
Baseball used to be America’s game but .. it no longer is . For the past twenty-five or thirty years , football – pro football , that is – has gained in popularity by leaps and bounds and it has supplanted baseball as Number One in the minds of the public. In a way , this is a reflection on our changing society. The rhythms of the two games are startlingly different .
Baseball is slow-paced , its leisurely progress punctuated by brief outbursts of excitement when a player gets on base , or when the batter faces the pitcher a full count or when he slams a home run . It reflects the way America used to be .
Football, however , is always balanced on the knife-edge of excitement . Any play can be a gamebreaker , can produce a touchdown , an interception , a fumble or a sack . Each game is fast paced , violent, unpredictable and more like the society of today. Is it any wonder that it is Number One ?
Football has much to recommend it . To the uninitiated , it may look like mayhem but once you begin to understand the rules and become familiar with the players and the teams , there is nothing like it.It is violent and skilled at the same time . At the line of scrimmage , in the trenches so to say, gargantuan 300 lb. offensive linemen slam into each other as they struggle to open holes for the runners or to buy time for the quarterback to pass the ball. Equally large defenders try to deny them the space or the time. Fleet running backs try to knife through holes in the line or burst into the open field around the ends . And then there are those moments of rare beauty when a receiver catches a pass in full stride and evades the clutching hands of desperate corner backs as he high steps into the end zone .The object of the game may be simple ( to get the ball into the other team’s end zone ) but the maneuvering is complex and often becomes apparent in slow motion replays . As someone once explained to me , it’s like a giant chess game using real people for chess pieces . Sooner or later , other sports pale into insignificance . No wonder the game has spawned the term ” football widows ” to describe wives whose husbands are glued to the TV set during the football season.
However , it must be acknowledged that a big reason for football’s popularity is that it is ideally suited for wagering , far more so than any other American sport .Unlike baseball , where the season lasts for a whopping 162 games , pro football has only 16 games a season . Every game is important in the march to the playoffs and , once the playoffs start ,it’s win or go home . No best of seven’s here. Under the circumstances, no team is going to slack off or take it easy on any given weekend. Coupled with that great equalizer , the ” Point Spread”, it means that you can bet on any team and have a reasonable chance at winning . As if this were not enough , Fantasy Football has taken the betting frenzy to even greater heights as , in effect , you can be a General Manager and form your own team . With the advent of Fantasy Football , business at sports bars has boomed as fans get obsessed ( even more obsessed, that is ) with player statistics and injuries as they try to select ” their ” teams .
The old-fashioned office betting pool is still popular but there are ever newer forms of betting and the money at stake has risen exponentially. One of these new fangled pools is called ” The Survivor ” . In it , bettors try to pick the winner of one game each weekend. If they pick correctly , they ” survive” to pick again ; if they lose they are eliminated. One other thing : In the course of a season , they can only pick any team only once.If they win in the first week with , say ,the Packers ,then they cannot go with the Packers for the rest of the season . This ensures that they will not be able to stick with one of the prohibitive favorites each week. Those who make it to the end of the season get , or share , the entire pot which can run into the thousands..
I have also heard that on Wall Street there is even a pool where players ante up $ 100,00o each to have a crack at a first prize of a million dollars. I would have thought that bankers wouldn’t need to make any more risks other than those they face every day in these troubled times.