It’s all in the game

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer of advertising

Column by Robert Valentine, senior lecturer of advertising

Well, the New Year has begun. You probably heard about it.

Traditionally, the New Year is a good time for people to make changes in their lives. Big companies reset the profits clock and aim at higher stock prices. Politicians resolve to raise more campaign money this year, and people who would rather be less than more start new diets.

I’m going on a diet, myself, but it has nothing to do with weight. I learned long ago how much good it does a man with no willpower to go on a diet. It’s a waste of time and good food — mostly ice cream. So many flavors, so little time.

No: I – like all of America – will be going on a football diet. Since August, we have had dozens of football games to enjoy each week. Soon, football will be no more. The long period of football famine will be broken only by the NFL Draft (goes on for days, even without the ESPN speculation and analysis), the interviews with recent retirees (will Aaron Rogers quit?) and the constant reruns of “classic” games whose outcome is really not much in doubt.

I understand that it affects some people rather severely. They begin to have withdrawal symptoms, as if they have gone “cold turkey” on cigarettes or had an intervention to break them of their six-donuts-per-day habit. They are short-tempered and jittery. Often, they just sit for long hours, staring at the television with dead eyes – almost as if they can see an imaginary game on some screen, somewhere in the shattered fabric of their being. Very sad.

This year the football diet won’t be hard for me. I generally watch games to see what the advertising media planners think I need most: electronics, trucks, insurance, beer, snack food and entertainment, apparently. I couldn’t even tell you who won the Super Bowl last year, but I think it was Payton Manners and the Green Bay Ravens. They played somebody else and apparently won so Mr. Manners could go into the pizza selling business.

Frankly, I won’t miss it. When Johnny U and Broadway Joe played, it was a game. Now, it’s a business. A games has to have rules, but it doesn’t require the Supreme Court.

Today’s pro football is one long interruption. Why do we have to review each play? Not even a verdict of “death by hanging and dismemberment” is appealed more than the average touchdown.

We ask these young millionaires to run at high speed and to stop some other millionaire from dashing to a piece of ground marked with some advertiser’s name. If the runner is touched on the shoulder, however gently, the toucher is penalized. If the runner is nearly crippled by a blow to the spine, there’s no problem.

But if some nice 300-pound man moves his head one-half inch to the left before the ball is handed to the quarterback, everyone has to move back 5 yards. If anyone makes a touchdown, members of the Ninth Appellate Court review special reports from the CIA and look at photos from the Geosynchronous Overflight Oblate-Spheroid Foto satellite (or, “GOOF”) to see if number 23’s pinky toe was touching a white chalk line. We must know!

Crime scene investigators don’t work as hard as the average “tape review” specialist — and they haven’t used tape in the 21st century. It seems silly. After all, it’s only a game.

Or, did all that money turn it from a game into a business? That would help to explain a great deal.

And what happens now that ESPN is experiencing financial reversal? If the money isn’t there, what will happen to the business of football? Are you worried?

Yeah, me neither. Happy New Year. Soccer, anyone?