We have seen the future, and it sucks.

Listen for the Noise

19th December 2017

Taki looks back in anger.

Rose-colored glasses conceded, the ’50s were still the best decade ever. Uncle Sam was propping up recovering Europe, our borders were not being overrun, the French Riviera was not covered by cement and inhabited by oligarchs and oil-rich camel drivers, tennis players played for love, and Mickey Mantle hit balls way out of the park without the aid of steroids. And pro football had suddenly caught on. The pros ran onto the field wearing those capes that made them look like ancient warriors, and once the game began we heard the noise—unheard-of until then—of bodies hitting bodies at great speed. That wonderful novelist Irwin Shaw once took me to the Giants’ training camp and told me to just listen: for the noise. I was hooked. There was the great Sam Huff, a nice boy from the South, whom Time magazine had put on its cover when Time was the No. 1 weekly in America. The story was called “The Violent World of Sam Huff.” There was the all-American boy hero, clean and handsome Frank Gifford; the Texan Kyle Rote; the two grizzly, beaten-up quarterbacks Chuck Conerly and Y.A. Tittle; the two Roosevelts, Grier and Brown; and Arnie Weinmeister; and Andy Robustelli; and many more. The present winless Cleveland Browns had not lost a game throughout the ’50s, or so it seemed, as they won the NFL championship year in and year out. Their quarterback was Otto Graham, their fullback Marion Motley; and coach Paul Brown had given his name to the team. There were other great stars of other teams—too many to mention, but names like Unitas, Bednarik (last pro to play both offense and defense), Van Buren, Waterfield, and Ameche stand out.

But that was then. And this is now: cheap shots, head shots, blindside shots, tackles designed to disable, unsportsmanlike conduct as routine, post-play trash talk, taunting of fallen opponents, and, of course, exploitation of the national anthem to show the rest of us that NFL players are righteous, socially concerned young men. Oh yes, I almost forgot. Once upon a time a touchdown was celebrated not at all, the player simply putting the ball on the ground and returning to the bench to be congratulated by his teammates.

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