It was a good day to be proud of Minnesota
Monday, November 04, 2013 3:02 AM
It was a great day to be outdoors and at that beautiful venue known as TCF Bank Stadium. We had decided to go to the Minnesota-Nebraska football game for a couple of reasons: a ticket special offer got us tickets for two games with the total cost being only slightly more than the cost of one game. And we do love a bargain. The second reason was that Nebraska fans are loyal to the extreme, following their team wherever they are playing. We were quite certain that the contingent coming to Minnesota would include several friends and people with whom Spouse Roger had worked in Lincoln before he retired. I also go for the people-watching, and to see the Pride of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Marching Band.
We did not have high hopes for this game's outcome. After all, the history of Minnesota playing against the Cornhuskers is not good. On this Saturday, when the Huskers marched down the field for the first score in the first three minutes, I thought to myself that this was going to be a long game.
Nebraska fans - and there were a lot of them - were just as I remembered: highly enthusiastic and vocal in their team support. But as the game went on, they got more and more quiet as the Minnesota fans got louder and louder.
I have never been very interested in watching football. So it was simply coincidence that between attending these two games, I was reading a piece titled "Football and the American Character" (John J. Miller, in Imprimis, September 2013). Miller pointed out the current concerns about football player safety, adding that besides professional players, "there are about 50,000 men who play in college and four million boys who play for schools or in youth leagues." Miller said, "Love for a college football team...is almost tribal....Whatever the origin (for that love), football has the power to form lifelong loyalties and passions and has supplanted baseball as America's favorite pastime." So true.
But there are influential people in the U.S. who would like to see "America's favorite sport run out of polite society...(going) the way of dogfighting."
Miller suggested the past may offer important lessons. A century ago, the problems were much worse than today: "In 1905, 18 people died playing the sport." There were long-running disputes about violence and safety. Back then, there were no quarterbacks or wide receivers, no first downs or forward passes.
The rules for the game were agreed upon before the game started, such as how many men would be on a team and what would count for a score and even how long the game would last. No one wore protective gear.
In 1876, Theodore Roosevelt, as an 18-year-old freshman at Harvard, attended his first football game, which was the second-ever match between his school and Yale. While Harvard lost, it piqued Roosevelt's interest in and support for the game. Over the years, there developed a "social and political movement to prohibit football...a major cause." "Progressive prohibitionists" wanted to ban football and "it took the efforts of Roosevelt to thwart them."
In the forefront were two opponents: Charles Eliot, president of Harvard who "hated team sports in general because competition motivated players to conduct themselves in ways he considered unbecoming of gentlemen." He thought "a pitcher who threw a curve ball was engaging in an act of treachery" and he hated football worse than baseball, calling it "evil."
On the other side was Walter Camp, a Harvard football player in that first game Roosevelt saw who became Yale's coach and a rules-maker, "the closest thing there is to football's founding father."
Miller described this rivalry as an example of "one of the ongoing controversies in American politics at its outset - the conflict between regulators bent on the dream of a world without risk and those who resist such an agenda in the name of freedom and responsibility." (He also called it how "a skillful leader can use a light touch to solve a vexing problem.")
Now, President Theodore Roosevelt stepped into this fray. At one point, he wrote to Camp and agreed that the "rough play, if confined within manly and honorable limits, is an advantage." He saw football "as more than a diversion. He saw it as a positive social good."
Roosevelt became directly involved by inviting Camp and the coaches of Harvard and Princeton to the White House; these were the three most important football teams at the time. Roosevelt said, "Football is on trial...Because I believe in the game, I want to do all I can to save it."
He got the three to promise to eliminate brutality as much as they could. An indirect outcome of that was the establishment of the NCAA and "a set of sweeping rules changes to reduce football's violence" and also the beginning of the forward pass, which would drastically change the game!
Miller rightly pointed out that "Like Roosevelt, our society values sports, though we don't always think about why - or why we should.... why do we want our kids to participate in athletics?" We think the answer is obvious: it is good for our health, and fitness.
Parents and school officials will say there are "intangible benefits in terms of character building - sports teach kids to get up after falling down, to play through pain, to deal with failure, to work with teammates, to take direction from coaches, and so on."
Miller's hunt for "proof" of these claims found research that confirmed these expectations. "...kids who play sports stay in school longer. As adults, they vote more often and earn more money." Miller suggested this is likely because it helps them "develop a competitive instinct and a desire for achievement."
He concluded, "Roosevelt was surely correct in believing that sports influence the character of a nation. Americans are much more likely than Europeans to play sports. We're also more likely to attribute economic success to hard work, as opposed to luck."
It is true that football has helped to confirm our national culture: we do love winning and are very competitive because those were necessary characteristics in the formative years of our nation.
I found Miller's history and analysis of the game's importance very interesting. And, he provided a good historical example of why Minnesota beat the Cornhuskers on Saturday. On Nov. 1, 1913, Army, one of the best teams in the country, played "a little-known Catholic school from the Midwest." Needless to say, Army was hugely favored to win. But that unknown team from Notre Dame "launched football's first true air war, throwing again and again for receptions and touchdowns," winning 35-14.
Notre Dame surprised powerhouse Army: they played a new-style passing game against Army's traditional "old-fashioned close line-smashing." I think that's what happened between Minnesota and Nebraska: the Gophers' non-traditional plays were simply confusing to the Huskers. It was pretty obvious that their fans were also stunned.
Some of our Nebraska friends did not make it to the game and we were unable to connect with the ones that did. Maybe that's a good thing because it had to have been a hard loss for people who are not very familiar with losing.
We were just as surprised: Spouse Roger commented, "I never thought I would see this again in my lifetime," since the last win for the Gophers over Nebraska was back in 1960.
All in all, it was a great day to be outside and at a ball game.