by KJ Howe
I have been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan since I was a little girl. When the leaves started to change, my excitement builds. The sound of cracking pads and the sight of colorful uniforms infused me with energy and enthusiasm. It came as naturally to me as reading. While I may have gotten my love of reading from my mother, my love of football came from the men in my life. My father played, one of my brothers played, and my husband played and coached for the majority of his life. So, while the traditional heroes may have worn white hats, mine wore black helmets.
The overlap between sports and literature has a long and well-known history. Sports, and the uniquely North American Football League, is an obvious metaphor for the elements of powerful fiction. Games are filled with heroes and villains (referees?) struggling to impose their will on each other. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end, and a clear resolution to all issues by the time the game is over.
Above all, there are larger-than-life characters. Every sports team has its fair share of unique individuals, but the Steelers have had more than their fair share. "Mean" Joe Green who would savagely kick and punch his opponents but is best remembered for a touching moment where he was portrayed with a young boy in a Coke commercial. The "Blonde Bomber" Terry Bradshaw who took a franchise that had never won a championship and won four Superbowls after critics had all told him he was "too dumb" to succeed in the NFL. Even the birth of the Steelers franchise is surrounded in legend and mystery. And there are the "unsung heroes," AKA the offensive linemen, who sacrifice their bodies in anonymity so that others can score touchdowns and see their faces on highlight reels. Sound like the cast of a good book?
And football, like good literature, has always reflected the society around it in a profound and symbolic way. This was recently explored in a fantastic book about the rivalry between the Steelers and Dallas Cowboys in the 70's. As the economy in Pittsburgh sputtered and steel workers and miners found themselves losing their jobs, new money and industry was turning Dallas into an economic success story. The Dallas Cowboys were as brash and flashy as the exciting new city was, and the Steelers were a dark and angry reflection of a steel town in crisis. The flashy uniforms and confident attitude of the Cowboys reflected a city flush and excited with new success, and players like "Hollywood" Henderson picked up on the culture and brought it to their playing style. But, like in any well-crafted story, the hard working underdogs won four Superbowls and won the "struggle for the soul of America."
As the football season comes to its culmination, take a few minutes to think about the intersection between sports and literature. If you can learn to think about this great game of ours as something more than a black hole that sucks men in for on most Sundays, and consider it as a metaphor for character, culture, struggle, and above all, passion, you can see why it inspires and entrances tens of millions every weekend.
In the spirit of the upcoming Superbowl, we'd love for you to share your sports passion. Do you shed a tear at the conclusion of Hoosiers? Do you live and die with your local baseball or hockey team? Do you take the day off work when the the Wallabies play the All Blacks or the Springboks? Or do you just love Troy Polamalou's hair?