DECADES ago, I chatted with a new Currie Cup coach who offered so much food for thought that I put the entire article in quotation marks. I didn't bother with a single “he says” because I couldn't add anything without watering it down.
Something I remember was his observation on why everyone says school rugby is more attractive to watch than senior rugby. “It's usually so much more attractive because the defence is usually so weak," was more or less his opinion.
You guessed it right, it was Rassie Erasmus, one of South Africa's smartest rugby brains yet and the man who, with Jacques Nienaber, transformed defence into such a virtue that they earned two previously unthinkable World Cups with it.
Since then, 80% of the losers have complained that defence has become too important in rugby. (The Irish are okay, but they also like Rassie.)
Soccer has followed more or less the same path but goals per game has been a fairly stable statistic this century. Until a new football Nienaber or two new Lionel Messis emerge, it will probably stay that way.
The tension between defence and attack is the whole point of any dynamic sport. (Those that don't have it, such as rugby league, are just the same thing over and over again.) But dynamic can often be frustrating, as rugby, soccer and American football demonstrate.
OK, now you've read a bit and I've seduced you with Rassie Erasmus and soccer. But actually I wanted to talk to you about American football.
Sorry, I sound like those believers who come knocking with a magazine and the news that heaven is already full but you can avoid hell if you join them and help distribute magazines to others with the news that heaven is already full but they can nevertheless avoid hell.
American football is more fun.
I took proper notice of it only when my long-time friend, Emile Joubert, told me about the Chicago Bears around 1984/85, and about Jim McMahon, Walter Payton and Refrigerator Perry. The huge Perry played himself in The A-Team (a friend of BA Baracus, if you hadn't guessed. And yes, that's Hulk Hogan, also himself as a BA friend. Ah, the 1980s.):
The bespectacled McMahon was a Rolling Stone cover — even though the much more photogenic The Bangles were a big story inside:
I was amazed that any sport could be so big; back then, even professional soccer still consisted of a bunch of ordinary guys with rotten hairstyles kicking dents into each other on poorly drained fields.
The Bears were so big that this rather lame effort reached #41 on Billboard and even earned a Grammy nomination.
If it sounds familiar to you, it is because our ears had to endure a South African version a decade later. Only Ollie le Roux raps with the slightest conviction:
Our Sharks may have rapped worse but they played better and enjoyed many more triumphs. That Grammy nomination a year after their last Super Bowl in 1986 was more or less as good as it has been for the Bears since then.
These days, they are the second most rotten gridiron team in the National Football League (NFL).
Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback yet, who retired the other day in the preseason after winning the Super Bowl six times with the New England Patriots and for the last time with the previously average Tampa Bay Buccaneers, complains that it has become a pit of mediocrity.
He's slightly right and quite wrong. It probably also depends on who he supports — the Patriots are pathetic now and the Buccaneers are buckling a bit. And his era of great veteran quarterbacks is over, although perhaps an even better generation are sharpening their skills.
We got to experience the razzmatazz of gridiron on our TVs only in the late 1980s.
I cheered for John Elway and the Denver Broncos that first season and stayed up late for Super Bowl XXII in January 1988, only to watch the unsung Washington Redskins thrash Elway and his team to the tune of 42-10.
The next day is also always Monday.
Elway lost the Super Bowl twice more before winning it twice, but by then I was in the San Francisco 49ers' camp, mainly because of their quarterback Joe Montana, the guy who threw the balls like clockwork.
The sport has recently — and probably temporarily — gained a huge new group of supporters. The Swifties, Taylor S's fans, fixate on her fresh romance with Kansas City Chiefs' tight end Travis Kelce.
In a year or so, expect an album with a return to her country roots and a confession about how it didn't work out.
Kelce's brother, Jason, plays for the almost equally formidable Philadelphia Eagles. Jalen Hurts, their quarterback, is one of the generation's rising stars, as is D'Andre Swift, a nimble young running back.
From The US Sun:
Just a word of advice — if you decide to start following a team in an American sport, pick one from the east coast or the prairies. Then you usually go to bed at least three hours earlier. So, I mostly record the 49ers on the west coast and almost only watch if they have won.
That is happening a lot these days.
Back to Brady and his lamentations — fewer points are indeed being scored in the NFL these days. The quarterbacks remain the most important players in the sport but the other positions are at long last receiving a legitimately larger share of the respect and the salaries.
Because there are salary caps in the NFL (for everyone but the owners, by the way), many teams these days spend more money on the other positions and take chances with younger, cheaper quarterbacks, of which there are plenty.
Without tight ends like Travis Kelce, the Chiefs superstar and arguably the best quarterback around, Patrick Mahomes, was not half as effective. Almost like how it took rugby about 20 years to realise a tighthead prop is worth almost as much as a flyhalf.
Defence is great fun
In American football, defence is progressing faster than attack, as happened in soccer about 60 years ago and in rugby for a while after it became professional.
But it's in no way unpleasant for me to see a quarterback being pushed backwards 10 steps and landing on his butt, any more than I complain when an open side flanker tackles a flyhalf fiercely, obviously as long as it is the opposition's quarterback or flyhalf.
One half of the game, be it rugby, soccer or American football, is trying to score points and the other half is trying to prevent them. With and without the ball are almost different games, the Yanks just made it official.
To test Brady's opinion, I sat back and watched football over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The game between the Washington Commanders (these days at least slightly more polite than “Redskins", but still) against the Dallas Cowboys was so terrible I almost scratched my eyes out. But then I enjoyed the 49ers' win in Seattle. They were great, the Seahawks were terrible and I cheer for San Francisco.
Jacksonville vs. Houston was exciting and interesting, Philadelphia vs. the Buffalo Bills was pretty spectacular considering the pouring rain. And the New York Jets (don't pick a New York team) were predictably rotten against the lively Miami Dolphins, but seeing this type of thing while it happens is always a joy.
Ladies and gentlemen, Jevon Holland. Even if the Jets also defend poorly these days. (Cheslin Kolbe would do well in this sport, as would Frans Malherbe, and Rassie would become a legendary coach with all his tactical prowess.)
There havsbeen a whole slew of great, as well as terrible, Super Bowl halftime concerts, but you'll have to YouTube those too.
Michael Jackson, The Temptations, Ella Fitzgerald, U2, the Stones, Beyoncé, Madonna, Dr. Dre, Phil Collins and Coldplay have all performed at halftime in the Super Bowl. (That sentence does sound half promise and half threat).
So for the weekend here are just three of my favorite tunes that have been played there:
Dr. Dre's hip hop showcase, the first time this genre received NFL approval, two years later even won an Emmy with 14 minutes packed with his fat as well as phat beats:
Tunes for Friday and the weekend
I really hope I die before most of my chums and many of them know that this happy tune must be played then, speaking of Super Bowl Sundae:
Michael Jackson, The Temptations, Ella Fitzgerald, U2, the Stones, Beyoncé, Madonna, Dr. Dre, Phil Collins and Coldplay have all played during Super Bowl halftime. (That sentence being half promise and half threat.)
The best, however, was Prince in 2007 — the short concert can be seen on YouTube, but the NFL is jealous of its product and we can't play it here.
Last year Dr. Dre and cronies including Eminem and Snoop Dogg were almost equally brilliant — the music starts at 2:30.
♦ VWB ♦
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