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The First and the Last

A different kind of Sunday double-header.

By 2.6.12

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TAMPA -- What better preparation for watching the biggest football game of the year Sunday evening than to watch an inconsequential baseball game Sunday afternoon.

No disrespect to the Spartans of the University of Tampa, or to the Fighting Falcons of Bentley College (of Waltham, Mass. -- I hadn't heard of it either). The game certainly wasn't inconsequential to their players, coaches, and fans. And it wasn't inconsequential to me, because it was the first of many baseball games I'll watch this spring, summer, and fall (it is spring in Florida now). With some colleges already playing hard ball, and Major League players reporting to training camps in Florida and Arizona this month, the gladiator sport will soon yield to the more subtle pleasures and the more relaxing rhythms of the Grand Old Game. 

Fewer than a hundred souls turned out in Tampa on a sunny, 82-degree "winter" day to watch the Spartans go 3-0 on the brand new season. A few more turned out in Indianapolis for the game there. In the press box at UT were four students, the university's sports information director, and one old coot just glad baseball is back. There were a few more media types in Indianapolis.

The football game, at the clunkily-named Lucas Oil Stadium, was a pretty good one, even though it was punctuated by the usual over-long, over-produced, and tasteless half-time featuring yet another past-it pop star. This one ending with a harrumphing, politically correct banality as "world peace" was spelled out in big letters just before resumption of a game in which the participants try to knock each other's brains out. "World peace" -- good grief! What does the NFL think this is, the Miss America contest?

At least some of the bad taste left by the nonsensical half time spectacle was washed away by Clint Eastwood's short, "Get out there and block and tackle, America" message.

The ads were perhaps not as out of control as they've been in years past. At least there were no gas-passing animals. But there was a woman who delivers a felonious head butt to her husband in order to commandeer a tin of Greek yogurt. (Imagine the fertilizer storm from feminist groups if the husband had butted the wife.) Budweiser put up a manic ad that featured what was probably only 30 seconds of rap but seemed like 30 minutes. And it's not entirely clear how those polar bears fumbling around with bottles of Coke to Beethoven will make people buy Cokes. Presumably the folks paying the gaudy amounts for the air time know the connection. The beer-fetching dog was fun to watch (though it doesn't change the fact that Bud-Lite tastes like beer-flavored water).

This NFL season had its moments, not the least being the Packers' run at perfection and the uplifting Tim Tebow Show in Denver. The Giants took the final game fair and square. And you've no idea how hard it is for this Southerner with a perfect life-time record of never pulling for New York team to say this. And thus NFL players begin off-season healing from those tens of thousands of collisions they've endured since last summer's training camps for our amusement. (If the baseball off-season where aficionados speculate on what the next season will bring is called the Hot Stove League, do football fans have an Air-Conditioner League?) So with a nod to hockey and the NBA, the thoughts of many of us now turn to baseball.

No need to go through all of George Carlin's great routine on the difference between football and baseball. But it's goodbye to bombs and blitzes and forearm shivers in arctic weather, and hello to good at-bats, hitting behind the runner, throwing from the stretch, and running home in 80 degrees (OK, maybe not even 70 in those first few home games in Fenway and Wrigley).

The Super Bowl reminds us all why football careers are shorter than baseball careers, as wide-body after wide-body was carried off the field of battle with injuries. The day's two games also demonstrated for me yet again that while a small cohort understand the infield fly rule, no one on Earth or the closer planets knows what pass interference is.

Oh yeah, you may not have found any mention of it in your morning sport page, but after beating Bentley 7-0 and 8-0 on Friday and Saturday, it took the Spartans single runs in the bottom of the 8th and the 9th to take care of Bentley 2-1 on Sunday. It will be a long flight back to Massachusetts for the Bentley boys, what with only one unearned run in three games to show for their weekend. But they're young and resilient. They'll bounce back. And they have lots of games left this season, which no team in the NFL can say today.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.