You’ve probably noticed that the one criticism that drives Obama defenders up the wall is when their idol is called “skinny.” It can’t help that he vacations along Hawaii’s beaches, where if you’re skinny and not a surfer — which he isn’t — you’re likely to be thought of as a 90 pound weakling, not exactly the best image to reinforce a foreign policy that already invites the rest of the world to kick sand in America’s face. It certainly didn’t help when Obama gave up his soft game of basketball for golf — just as Tiger Woods turned the sport into a national joke if not a replacement for spin the bottle.
One wonders how Katie Roiphe would assay the Obama-Woods dichotomy. She is the writer who launched her New Year with a major attack in the New York Times on the younger crop of American male novelists for the utter unvirility of their sex scenes as compared to those of the Great Male Novelists Updike, Roth, Mailer, and Bellow. For steam heat these days she’s having to rely on women and gay writers.
I take it Roiphe is not a fan of football, though there too she’d have lots to chew on and plenty that she’d find disturbing. If in her view the male greats wrote about sex in order to “defeat death,” as she put it, I suppose she’d concur that men revel in the most brutal of sports for the same reason. President Obama is commander in chief, yes, but can anyone imagine him coaching football? Perhaps at places like the University of Kansas and Texas Tech, which recently canned their coaches for alleged mistreatment of players. But would anyone ever compare him to the Washington Redskins’ longtime offensive line coach Joe Bugel, a passionate, profane, and loyal man whose boss recently praised him for doing all he could to prepare his charges “for the violence of this game”?
In its documentary series on the American Football League’s 50th anniversary last fall, the Showtime network likened the old AFL’s dynamism and creativity to that of the space program. In 1969 both succeeded spectacularly; Joe Namath’s Jets won the Super Bowl and man walked on the moon. And whereas the space program soon fizzled, professional football continued to reach for the stars, surpassing baseball as America’s game by light years with every passing year. It wasn’t until this past season that this race toward infinity revealed it has limits after all.
For most players and teams, getting to and winning a Super Bowl is the main goal. Indianapolis’s Colts did just that three seasons ago. This time they had a chance to top that, and through 14 games found themselves undefeated. It brought to mind the New England Patriots’ epic season of 2006-7, in which they went a record 18-0 before losing in the Super Bowl in the final minute. Regardless, it’s a season that will forever be talked about. And the Colts? They’ll be remembered for unilaterally disarming, for staring immortality in the eye and flinching. Once home field advantage for the playoffs was clinched, the team’s management and head coach pulled the plug on their key players, all so that the latter might stay “healthy” and “rested” for the playoffs, a perfect season and competitive pride be damned. As it happened, the Colts went on to lose both of their final regular season games, ending at a disappointing 14-2.
Perhaps thanks to its great quarterback Peyton Manning and resourceful defense, the team will recover from the ultimate insult to its dignity and fight its way to victory in this year’s Super Bowl. And its reward? A White House audience with President Obama, no doubt, and perhaps a friendly game of croquet on the South Lawn. Immortality will be nowhere to be found.