Tonight’s Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale will be glitzy. Confetti will fly. Crowds will roar. Players will battle. Owners will … well … be owners.
But down on the field, football is brutal and violent. How savage this game is.
So, what’s the difference between the Super Bowl and vicious Roman gladiator fights of two thousand years ago?
Nothing. Well, one thing – death. Gladiators battled with swords until they or their opponents died. NFL players battle until the scrawny referee’s gun goes off. (However, note that some NFL players will act dead to get a free injury time out, giving Coach time to figure out why the team’s been getting slaughtered.) Whether the game is played today or way back then, it’s all about competition, period. Modern football may not allow gladiator swords, but stickum, gloves and deflated balls may be. Anything to win.
What both spectacles have most in common is spectatorship. Believe it or not, two thousand years ago, just like today, fans were entertained by players bearing fantastic tattoos. Muscular combatants love to parade the fancy tattoos etched on their svelte, muscular bodies. Fat players wear tattoos, too, but get much less attention, the only difference that fat NFL players earn enough money to buy every tattoo parlor on the planet while fat gladiators were happy just to live for another day and another tattoo.
The significance of fans’ interaction with players can never be overlooked. When a gladiator was wounded, Romans heckled, “habet, peractum est!” (i.e., “He’s had it, it’s all over”). Similarly, tonight, New England fans will yell, “Ged ap ya bam ‘n stap fakkin’ it!” (expletives deleted). Fans will do almost anything to get into stadiums for the chance to dialogue with players. Unfortunately, many Romans weren’t even allowed through the stone turnstiles because they were gravediggers, actors or former gladiators. The NFL, however, will take anyone’s money.
Left-handedness is another aspect that has bonded these two sports. Fans were treated to the Coliseum’s special Left-handers Event, enjoying the slaughter of fighters, unable to handle moves and blocks suddenly coming in from the left side. Similarly in the NFL (Steve Young, Boomer Esiason and Mark Brunell aside), fans have adored watching millionaire left-handed quarterbacks get mauled and blindsided. Lefties never make good pro quarterbacks and only waste high draft picks, and thus deserve to be eaten alive.
Roman citizens discovered news of big upcoming matches by reading announcements on street walls. Today, unless in a coma, everyone knows the Super Bowl is coming. Entertainment between gladiator clashes included public executions right on the field. Billion dollar commercials will be shown tonight that, if not funny, will feel as disastrous as watching an execution.
After a long run of popularity, Rome’s great games faded out in 432 AD due to the high cost of curing gladiators. Time will tell if the NFL will run out of money. My guess is the NFL will eventually pay such high insurance and litigation fees for decades of player concussions and injures that it will go bankrupt. Ouch.
Till then: “Aw farr Chys sak, ged ‘im aff the feel an brang in hiz sab!”