Poetry and football – a natural marriage, right? I know it’s a hard sell. “Let’s have Terrance Hayes do the halftime show,” said no NFL executive, ever. And yet, the more I watch professional football, the more I have realized how much there is in it for poets to love. This Super Bowl, which pits the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos, offers even more compelling stories than the usual match-up.
Obviously the topics available to poets are limitless, but for the sake of this post, I’ve broken our interests down into categories that I feel are relatively universal.
FIRST QUARTER: IMAGERY AND SYMBOLISM
Or: There are already a lot of really great poems that use football as a metaphor.
(Quoted below: James Wrights’s, “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio”; Stacie Cassarino’s “In the Kitchen” twice; Denis Johnson’s, “Why I Might Go To The Next Football Game”; and Louis Jenkins’s “Football.”)
We are poets. We believe that “in the Shreve High football stadium” we will see young men “gallop terribly against each other’s bodies” because there’s no way to watch this game and not see the celebration of youth and immense physical prowess, along with the possibility of suffering by each others’ hands, and the inevitability of old age and death. We look at a game and understand that it calls into question human resilience. We believe “four chances/is enough to get there,” to get it right. But football also allows us to test this theory, to see how much the human body can withhold and withstand. We “want to say harder/[we] can take it, but/there’s no proof [we] can.” In some ways, it’s safer to be poets than players, to be the “old, breathing/man wrapped in a great coat in the stands, who/remains standing after each play, who knows/something.” But sometimes it’s almost as dangerous to be a poet. We know, for example, that “one has certain responsibilities,/one has to make choices. This isn't right and I'm not going/to throw it.” And then sometimes, because we’re romantics, because we believe in fate-defying leaps, and last second turns, we throw the ball.
TIME OUT: FATE V. HUMAN WILL, PART I
Or: Is Peyton Manning, the Denver Bronco’s quarterback, destined to win this Super Bowl?
Over the course of his lengthy career, Peyton Manning has amassed 55 regular and post-season records (including one set this year for throwing more touchdown passes in a season than anyone else), and is considered one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game. However, for all of Peyton’s successes, his post season record is an even 11-11. At 37, having recovered from four neck surgeries, it’s unclear how many more seasons he will play. Peyton’s most recent neck injury left him on the brink of irrelevance. Thinking Peyton’s playing days were over, his former team (the Indianapolis Colts) cut him to make room for a new, young quarterback. Peyton’s current record-setting season with the Denver Bronco’s is missing one final piece to complete his redemption narrative, a victory in the Super Bowl. Many argue that it’s Peyton’s time, that he deserves, and is destined, to win.