Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where Have All The Gladiators Gone? (Part Two)


There's a scene in "Gladiator" where Russell Crowe's character, Maximus, yells to the Colosseum crowd, "Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?" Then after throwing down his sword and spitting on it, the crowd chants, "SPANIARD! SPANIARD!" Maximus seems shocked by the power he holds.

It was a prominent moment of the movie, and it's also a metaphor to what the fan/player relationship has become in the NFL. As Maximus learned, so too have players learned that they have the power, that they are the ones that matter, not the fans. It wasn't always this way. Players were the gladiators, the unloved and unnamed. They put their bodies on the line for nothing more than the glory of victory. And we worshiped them for it.

Only, now the league has become too big. The lines are drawn. Chiefs fans will love Chiefs players no matter what, Giants fans will love Giant players, etc. Michael Vick, Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson have found homes. We've chalked this up to America's principle of second chances. Alright, I'll give you that. But how can you explain Brett Favre?

There's an old adage in sports: the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. Of course, free agency and million-dollar contracts had teams swapping players like spouses at a 1970s commune. But even in this age, the beloved ones are the players who helped identify what their teams - and thus, their cities - stood for. Derek Jeter in New York, Troy Aikman in Dallas, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Even guys who played for other teams - Joe Montana, Bruce Smith, Jerry Rice, etc. - will always be known in the jerseys that made them famous. Yes, they played the money game like everyone else, but they were still not bigger than the league.

Brett Favre believes he is bigger than the NFL. He has no notion of loyalty or history. It's business, not personal, he would say. Except, the fans have no monetary stake in this game, only emotional. Favre was Green Bay's Maximus, who turned on them once he learned of his power over them. The difference being, of course, that Favre is not a slave. The fans he betrayed didn't cheer his death, they payed his salary. Literally. The Packers are community-owned.

Favre doesn't understand the heart-strings he pulled with his constant "I don't know if I'm coming back...I am...no, wait, I'm not" routine. Management had roles to fill, a team to build. They waited, and when Favre said he wasn't coming back, they put Aaron Rodgers in the starting spot. So when Favre said he wanted to un-retire, it was too late. Sorry, but you are not bigger than the league, the Packers moved on. We all know what happened after that.

Favre has now twisted the knife he had already stuck in every Cheesehead's stomach. "Real Packer fans would understand", he said. The man would have no clue what it meant to be a real anything. Which is sad, because he was the ultimate gladiator. Never missed a game, a true blue-collar good ol' boy from Mississippi. We want to root for this guy. But he stands for everything football fans loath; greediness, blindness and narcissism.

But it's not really his fault. He is a product of the system. Maximus didn't steal his power, the mob gave it to him. And so it is with Favre. We put him on this pedestal. So it's not that wrong of us to knock him off. We make these gladiators, they are ours. Forget this fight of individualism and freedom; you make more in a season than 90% of fans will make in a lifetime. Woe has no place in a millionaire's vernacular.

I say boo this man, for he deserves it. As does Ochocinco (how quickly we turned on this clown), Terrell Owens or anyone else who forgets who they are. This is football. This is our game. And when it comes down to it, your future should be decided on whether we give a thumbs up or thumbs down. Make it primal, uncivilized, politically incorrect. Suffer in the name of entertainment. Then take it to the bank.

3 comments:

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