One day I decided I was going to become an American Football fan. I went to a sportswear shop in the mall and picked out a Raiders cap. The Raiders were going to be my team. That afternoon, I arrived at my dishwashing job at the college cafeteria, proudly sporting my new interest.
“Oh hey!” Tim, a coworker who was bussed in from the local mental institution pointed at my forehead. “You like the Raiders!”
“Yep,” I nodded proudly. “That’s why I wear the hat.”
Tim was ecstatic, “You guys have Rocket Ishmael! He passed for suchandsuch many field downs… and kicked X many touch goals… and ran for Y many first yards… and intercepted N many tackles!” Tim was rattling off copious amounts of sports facts at me in a barrage of information overload.
“Wow. I did not know that. Really?” I struggled to process this sudden deluge of data, “That’s cool. Uh-huh. Interesting. You don’t say.”
Tim stopped suddenly, frowning curiously at me, “You don’t really know anything about football, do you?”
“Ummm…” I thought for a moment. “Those Raiders have really cool helmets, huh?”
“I’ll give you a dollar for your hat.”
Sold, and thus my American Football interest was quickly extinguished.
It blows my mind to sit in a bar and listen to the obscure mountains of data sports fans can so casually toss about to one another. These are people who know all major players for numerous teams going back 30 years or more and can expound on statistical analyses of those players’ capabilities that leave my head spinning.
Two football fans arguing over who was the better quarterback, John Amway or Flash Gordon, sound suspiciously like two nerds arguing which was cooler, Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Football fans geek out just like anybody else, it’s just their brand of geekery is more socially acceptable.
Why is that? Why do some athletes make more than 50 times the annual salary of the United States President? Why the urge to watch people run, jump, throw, and grapple in teams/tribes with “totemic” names like Bears, Eagles, Colts, Panthers, and the like? In his essay, Monday-Night Hunters, Carl Sagan argues that it’s simply in our genes as hunter-gatherers, and it’s easy to understand why a species such as ours, which only began gave up the hunt a few thousand years ago for an agrarian lifestyle would still have brains wired to this vicarious thrill.
But the operative word here is vicarious. This sound and fury signifying nothing constitutes an incredible expenditure of time and resources. Imagine if Sports fans devoted their energies to Science the way they devote themselves to their NFL Team:
Lou: I’m tellin’ yah Benny, Feynman was a better Physicist than Oppenheimer.
Benny: You kiddin’ me Lou? Your thinkin’ that clown was a better Physicist than Robert “father of the atomic bomb” Oppenheimer? Now I know your loosing it.
Lou: That Commie Oppenheimer couldn’t hold a candle to Feynman–
Benny: ‘scuse me, but dat’s an ad hominem logical fallacy their Lou.
Lou: Feynman made major contribution to Quantum electrodynamics, the physics of superfluidity, and his Feynman diagrams were fundamental to String T’eory!
Benny: Ah bumpkiss to yah String T’eory. You just wait till that new super-collider comes online and blows apart all that String T’eory nonsense.
I’m telling you, if we can find some way to get the world’s legion sports fans to refocus their incredible powers of concentration and data-crunching cognitive prowess, we could solve world hunger, cure cancer, and be driving hybrids to the #@$%ing Moon in less than 10 years.
Still, I plan to watch the Superbowl Sunday Night for my Vicarious-Hunter-Fix.