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CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

NFL football is back -- he's gobsmacked, quarterback-sacked

Thursday night in Pittsburgh, life begins anew. Sure, it's violent and yes, it's hyped to death. What's not to love?

September 10, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

Life begins again tonight, when the Visigoths from one city take on the Huns from another, out on the village green. The ensuing mayhem will be televised to death -- thank God -- then analyzed as if a pop star's autopsy. That's right, the NFL is back. Hoopla is too weak a word.

Yes, the republic survived another off-season. Good cheer will spread across the land. The kids are happy as if witnessing a first snow -- and by kids, I mean any child between the ages of 4 and 104. Me, I'm still a little stoned from that terrific Super Bowl. Before I get my wits completely back, here are a few predictions:

* John Madden will un-retire.

* Brett Favre will re-re-retire.

* There will be endless debate over something dubbed the "Brady rule," which prevents defenders on the ground from lunging at a quarterback's legs -- unless the defender is a supermodel.

* Another rule change, eliminating the wedge on kick returns, will also be discussed, as if civilization itself is crumbling. Which it is.

* Cris Collinsworth will become "America's Sweetheart."

* Offensive linemen -- Smurf-like characters with double vision and triple chins -- will finally weigh more than your car.

* You'll read way too much on the women in Tony Romo's private life (Romosexuals).

* Doctors will do an MRI exam on one of the NFL's premier receivers and discover his head is as hollow as a Home Depot door.

* Several quarterbacks will be knocked into next week.

It's a terrible game in many ways, tearing apart the joints of good men and rattling the skulls of numskulls. I don't know why anybody plays it. The Kennedys had the right idea. Put on your oldest sailing sweater, throw the ball around a little at the Cape, chase it with a few (or many) White Russians. Call it a day.

I have this friend -- OK, an acquaintance -- who insists the pro game has become the bastion of thugs and misfits. To that, I reply: "Yes, since about 1890."

You think John Matuszak and Conrad Dobler hung out at the opera? ("When I hit a guy, I'll hit him in the throat," Dobler once said. "He doesn't have any pads on his throat.") Ray Nitschke used to knock loose the chromosomes of other players -- in practice. Fellow humanist Dick Butkus supposedly bit a referee. Tasted like zebra.

There's no way we should like this game, except that it is about acquiring real estate, which Americans crave, and holding tailgate parties, which we may love even more (grills + coolers + brats + buddies = life).

If baseball is a Carl Sandburg poem, soothing and pastoral, then football is a Tarantino flick, hit men and compound fractures. Conquest hurts.

"The truth of the matter is, somebody is going to die in the NFL," Carson Palmer tells Sports Illustrated in its terrific season preview. "Guys are getting so big, so fast, so explosive. The game's so violent."

Right, Carson, the game was never violent before. Maybe he's talking about off the field, where more and more players are shooting themselves or each other. In Oakland, coaches reportedly handle their mood swings by smacking the other guy in the face. Smashmouth football.

It's always been a punchy game -- Woody Hayes, Mike Ditka -- but coaches from the same staff punching each other takes things to a new, delicious level. Call it football-interruptus. When the choice is to be disgusted or amused, I'll take amused almost every time.

So, I'm not going to worry my life away over the bad behavior of overfed men. Football is the sport they chose, after all. They're paid plenty, and if they tire of it, there is usually work for them down on the loading dock.

Till then, we'll soak up all we can of our most mythical game. Like the NBA, pro football just seems to get better and better of late. By gawd, have you seen what's happened to the NFC North? Once a division of heavy-hipped meatpackers, it has suddenly become the cradle of quarterbacks.

Cutler, Rodgers, Favre, Stafford? Those guys could throw a paper airplane through a battleship. It appears that miracles are occurring on a daily basis in the Great White North. The city of Green Bay, for example, just hired its first black police officer. What's next: French food in Cleveland?

Ah, the world changes, all right. The NFL changes. You change. I stay pretty much the same, unfortunately.

But starting tonight in Pittsburgh, pro football is back -- warts, torts and all. I love it like lasagna.

Then again, maybe love is too weak a word.

--

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Erskine also writes "Man of the House" in Saturday's Home section.

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