My favorite philosopher is George Santayana. When he was teaching at Harvard, someone asked him why he, a philosopher, went to football games. He replied, “Football is the game most like life.” When someone with his qualifications makes a statement like that, you just have to sit up and take notice. I’ve heard life described as “the school of hard knocks.” There’s plenty of hard knocks in football. You may have experienced a few in life too, I know I have. Maybe George had something there.
It may be fun to see if we can find further similarities. I’m sure any Coach would help us out. “Winning is the only thing,” to paraphrase a famous football coach. Any coach would stress that the win must be achieved in the true spirit of sportsmanship, if it is to be worthwhile. Or is that a sentiment reserved for the Olympics and professional sport is “win at all cost?” It could be that Santayana was peering deeper than we thought, into the psyche of the game.
The parallels continue. How about “the best defense is a good offense?” That one could easily be ported over into everyday life. Then there are the teams who are not fortunate enough to have a covered stadium, and are at the mercy of the elements. Advancing down field is doubly hard, with a stiff wind in your face. It must seem that it is not only the opposing team, but the very fates are in opposition. But wait a while, the time always comes when the wind is at your back, and gaining field position is almost a sure thing. Old George no doubt picked up on that one and probably made a few notes. If that’s what philosophers do, at football games.
And how about getting the best of that fearsome looking defensive line? Sometimes just three of four yards is all that it takes. Keep control of the ball. Keep the drive alive. It is a given that you must avoid the dreaded fumble. When the ball comes your way, be it a pass or a hand-off, you must handle it with skill and concentration. At every game you can spot some hapless receiver who heads for the end zone, visions of glory in his eyes, before he has secured the ball. The hulking defense loves that, and are eager to make him pay for his hubris.
Indeed, these are examples that can be applied to our every-day efforts. After all, you can’t use the long bomb in every play. Sometimes you have to grind it out. And sometimes you have to settle for a field goal, when a touchdown is out of reach. But sometimes, that’s all it takes to win the game.
And when the clock ticks down with the home team behind, and there is only time for one last desperate play, nothing brings the crowd to their feet like the old “Hail Mary.” Sometimes the entire season hangs in the balance. The stress, the tension! The agony and the ecstasy! Amid the cheering fans, I like to think that Santayana is furiously scribbling notes. Yes indeed George, football is the game most like life.
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