October 9, 2008

Lovehandles & Football

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Feeling a little like Simba before a herd of wildebeests, I spent homecoming pacing the strip of turf that separates the sidelined Cornell football players from the field. Aside from the fact that I was paid to be there and despite the obvious danger of stampede and trample, the sidelines are a spectating ideal. The rusty foldout chairs at the top of the crescent where the trustees almost stay dry and get free chocolates are far my spot’s inferior. Super Bowl XLII in high-def on a 64-inch flat screen didn’t even come close. The reason it’s the best place to watch football here is because you don’t have to rely on the game for entertainment, which can get pretty risky in this league. The horde of players bobbing up and down the sidelines provides most of the fun.
My favorite thing about this past homecoming game, besides beating the Bulldogs — who I once heard ask Cornell athletes how it feels “to be the best at being mediocre” — was the taunting from the sidelines. Particularly, the shouts: “How f-ing fat are you, No. 5?” and “Look at your love handles, 68!” Laughter is supposedly the result of a violation of expectation, and I guess I don’t always expect to hear Division I, varsity football players calling out each other’s love handles. Why not typical masculine insults about being small, or small in a certain area? Plus, football players are supposed to be hefty. And that’s when I started to wonder.
I missed a couple of my vital throw-ins, so distracted by this sudden, inspired speculation. I had a flashback to Cowboys vs. Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, the morning after which I went into school and scribbled into my third grade journal: “It was a sad day yesterday! Pittsburgh Steelers let Cowboys win because they felt sorry for the Cowboys’ fat front line.” A mock insult from my Steeler-fanatic dad, but clearly proof not only that I was a bit of an unusual kid — or still am for having that journal — but that weight criticism has been as much a part of football as Brett Favre. In fact, the very first professional football player was nicknamed William “Pudge” Heffelfinger. How appropriate!
Not only is it funny to stand before eighty big, red, riled guys clamoring about love handles, but it’s comically ironic. Football is utterly and famously American. Obesity is also incredibly American. Finally, attractiveness is nearly linearly correlated with leanness in America. Is one of our most patriotic pastimes merely a reflection of society’s greatest health concerns?
No, I wouldn’t go that far. Obesity wasn’t rampant when football began, and the nature of the sport simply provides an advantage to heftier men. Nobody is going to run through a lineman that weighs 300 pounds. But my inspired speculation brought me to this: maybe football’s founding father had another talent. Perhaps he could also see into the future. He might have foreseen the obesity epidemic and designed a game that actually utilizes fat. That way, even in fading fitness, we would be sure to uphold the American tradition of domination and excellence.
Fortunately, “72, you’re fat!” bellowed from the sidelines before my ridiculous musing could continue any further. Focus shifted back to the field, I watched as the clock ticked its way down to zero and left the scoreboard to rest on an unbelievable outcome. Though on the job I’m supposed to act neutral, I might’ve outwardly enjoyed the heckling a couple times. After all, I am loyal to my alma mater and I learned in third grade precisely how to express loyalty to a football team. My teacher’s response to the insightful journal entry: “Ouch…you and your dad are very loyal fans!”
It’s a facetious ouch. Taunting football players about love handles is necessary. Like the fat itself, it’s all a part of the American game.