How football grew to dominate the American sports landscape – and every fall weekend | sarasota


There is perhaps no image more American than that of legendary football coach John Madden with his hand in the air being carried off the field by his team the Oakland Raiders after winning Super Bowl XI in 1977 .

If you know football, you know the picture. The Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Madden, who died in December at the age of 85, looks so happy in this photo. Whether as a coach, broadcaster or video game cover star, no one loved football more than Madden. He was representative of America: tall, loud and never too serious, but sharper than a steel knife. When he won that Super Bowl, it wasn’t just a result of his success, but also of the people around him, all working together towards a common goal.

It is normal that he came to represent the favorite sport of our country. Yes, baseball may be America’s pastime, but it’s football that rules our fall weekends and pulls our hearts in a million different directions.

Like America itself, football was born out of English and improved. In 1869, students from Princeton and Rutgers played the first game of intercollegiate football, something Northeastern students created as a mix of rugby and football. In fact, the game was originally known as “gridiron football” to differentiate it from football – which is short for “association football“, if you didn’t know. The game was still pretty rugby at first; we have Yale student and eventual coach Walter Camp to thank for implementing many of football’s iconic features, like the down concept, turnovers, line of scrimmage, and most importantly, the quarterback.

Would we love football as much as we love it if there were no quarterback jobs? There’s something in Americans’ DNA that makes us love watching sports balls fly high through the air. Think about it: right now the long-range three-pointer is all the rage in the NBA along with its popularity, and thanks to baseball’s home run explosion of the 1990s, we all know that “chicks (and dudes) dig the long ball.” When you watch Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady or Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes make a 40-yard throw around the corner of the end zone that gently falls into their receiver’s arms, as if handing them a newborn baby, it almost makes you want to cry – but it’s football so you boo and shout instead It’s art in the same way the Sistine Chapel ceiling is art and demands a similar accuracy; it happens in a flash instead of five years.

Do you know what else is beautiful? Children playing football in the snow. That’s how Braden River High head coach Curt Bradley came to love the game. Bradley, the son of the former University of Missouri quarterback (and professional baseball player) Phil Bradley, was born in 1985 in Missouri and grew up watching not the Tigers, but the University of Colorado Buffaloes.

Braden River offensive coordinator Eric Sanders and head coach Curt Bradley first met while playing football together at the University of Northern Iowa. They then trained together in Syracuse before joining the Pirates. (File photo)

“They had a running back named Eric Bienemy, who is now the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator,” Bradley said. “He was a small ball carrier and I was small. In those days ball carriers would go over their linemen on the goal line. I practiced that, going over my father, who was on his hands and knees.”

Bradley said the snow was no obstacle for him and his footballing friends. In fact, it created one of his fondest memories, when the group snuck into a friend’s parents’ garage and took their spray paint. Bradley and his friends spray painted an entire football field, complete with end zones, in the neighborhood and played a full game.

Look at this? Football teaches innovation.

It teaches much more than that, too. Bradley said that despite the rise of social media in the current era – which has created a more individual sport with a ‘me first’ attitude – football has a lot to teach our nation’s youth.

“I tell my team all the time that if you work hard and do the right thing, the game will pay off,” Bradley said. “For some it means playing the game at the next level, but for others it means learning to persevere in difficult times. What it takes to succeed in football is always the same: commitment, tenacity and being a good teammate. You can’t fake anything in the weight room or in blocking and tackling drills as much as possible.”

You need look no further to find proof that Bradley, who not only was a successful football coach at Braden River, but also turned many of his players into standing members of the community. Bradley said he was blessed to have the opportunity to do so. Watching former pirates become successful parents and businessmen is one of his favorite parts of the job, he said.

I played football for a few seasons of Pop Warner. I ironically stopped focusing on baseball, which was more suited to my skill set, but my football background stuck with me. This is where I learned how to get yelled at, which is a surprisingly important skill to learn. This is where I learned to get up, literally, after taking a beating. And that’s where I learned to do a touchdown dance, because this is America, damn it, and if there’s one thing Americans know how to do, it’s celebrate.

Now go have a beer and throw the pigskin in your garden. You deserve it.

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