The Big Game

by Sheila Connolly

I hear there was a big game yesterday. (Oh, all right, I watched it. How could I not? I live in Massachusetts, and before that I worked in Philadelphia.)

I’m not a big sports fan. Football is the only public sport I follow, mainly because my high school had a very successful team and half the town turned out on weekends to watch them play. That’s the only reason I know the rules of the game. Stick me in front of a basketball game and I’m lost, and forget about hockey or soccer

And then I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during the Golden Years of Joe Montana and the 49ers, and I was hooked for life.

I’m not alone—well over half the people in the country watch professional football, both men and women.

So why am I writing about this here? Because we’re all mystery writers, and we kill people. On paper at least—not in the real world (right, ladies?). And I think there’s a connection.

Can we agree that the human race likes conflict, often bloody? Wars have been around longer than the writing to record them. It seems to be in our blood. What is interesting is that in a number of cases, the deadly wars somehow transformed themselves into entertainment for the masses. It might not have happened all at once, but think about  the gladiator battles of the Roman Empire. Maybe early on they were a convenient way to kill off prisoners or unwanted groups of people, but at some point they became games with cheering crowds (and most likely refreshments and betting).

Same thing in the Middle Ages. Of course there were still wars, and people died. But again, after a while the messy wars became staged jousts between mounted men in armor, trying to knock each other off their horses, while lords and ladies watched. A different kind of game.

We all know crime exists in the modern world, some sophisticated, some brutal. So why does a pleasant group of not-young, non-violent ladies like us write about killing someone (or more than one someone) in each and every book we write? (Writers of suspense and thrillers are not included in this sample—that’s where you readers can go if you want blood and fear and pain.)

I think it’s the same principle, if a bit watered down. We kill off people (usually not-good people) because it gives readers a small chill—”could that have been me?”—and then we set about making things right by solving the crime. I’d guess than none of us believes that murder is a good or even a necessary thing, so what we do is as close as we can come to fixing the problem.

So, back to football. My theory is that it’s mock warfare, with the emphasis on “mock.” Nobody is supposed to die, or even get seriously injured (although sadly it does happen all too often). But we want the thrill of the battle, the small armies of big men running into each other and chasing after a small useless leather object, and we want to care enough about one team or the other that we feel happy when they win, or sad when they don’t.

Better that people get their anger and hostility out of their system watching a mock battle than taking it out on real people, right?

What about you? Are you a sports fan, do you think games are barbaric, or do you simply not care (and go read a book instead)?

County Cork Mystery #6. There are no battles, real or mock, in this book, but there is, alas, a body.

21 thoughts on “The Big Game

  1. Much to some of my former roommates’ shock, I have gotten so I do enjoy spots – but mainly as background noise. While I did watch the Superbowl, I watch the rest of football with the sound off quite a bit. I’ll watch one play a quarter or so, and the rest of the time, I’m working on reviews or reading or doing something else like that.

    But there is something I have really begun to enjoy about it, especially football. I’m sorry to see it go until the fall.

  2. I really like your analogy, Sheila, and agree with it. Very well done. I never was much of a sports fan, and am even less so now. No, I did not watch the game even though I live fairly near Philly and used to live in New England. Give me a really well-written cozy any day!

  3. I am not a sports fan, but the men in my house are happy and excited, and I am always okay with that. Your mock battle comment is interesting, because that’s how some people regard video games, and it’s how I regard Facebook. None of those are perfect ways to engage in conflict, but is there one?

  4. I have to say, if you’re ever going to watch a football game, last night’s was the one. Clean playing (few penalties), the classic pairing of the .Great Team and the scrappy underdog, two appealing quarterbacks, even a dash of humor (wait–that QB actually caught a touchdown pass???), and neither side gave an inch until the bitter end. Now we can all go back to gardening on Sunday afternoons. Or reading, of course.

  5. We have people over for Superbowl…everyone brings food and we eat the main at half-time. It’s not my favorite sport, I’m probably still hooked on baseball and basketball…I am so looking forward to the Olympics later this week!!!

  6. Excellent analogy and I agree with you. The gridiron battle satisfied our lust for blood sports. Of course, since I lived in Virginia for a while, I also enjoy watching jousting – but no blood is shed there either – usually.

    As for the Superbowl – I watched most of it last night until weather knocked the satellite offline, but I also read a book. Neither my husband nor I are big televised sports fans, but how else can you watch the commercials? The one where Brady and I don’t know the other man’s name danced to I’ve Had the Time of My Life was priceless!

  7. I’m a mediocre football fan – most sports, I guess. Meaning it’s fun to see the home team win, but I don’t get emotionally caught up in it.

    I watched the last 3 minutes of the game last night and my boy gave regular updates. That was enough.

  8. Interesting analogy, Sheila, I think it’s a good one.
    I watch the Super Bowl for all the hoopla, commercials, and halftime show. I do like the Olympics (talk about hoopla and a great show) so I’ll watch them later this week. I especially like the figure skating – where we know there’s drama and conflict, but it’s off the ice.

  9. I used to be a huge football fan but usually don’t have the patience to sit through a game anymore. I did watch last night. Did you see the commercial with Chris Hemsworth? Worth the whole thing — and the Justin Timberlake tribute to Prince –awesome. My husband grew up watching British Premiere League soccer and I am a soccer fan now too. Go Manchester United.

  10. I am from Lowell, Massachusetts and transplanted to the Philadelphia burbs so the game has its interest based on that. Wore a neutral color when I needed to in order to avoid the comments. Nice to see the Eagles win since it is about time! Good game although I am not a huge fan of football. Boxing and football are both barbaric and need some change but becoming sophisticated in the way we do things doesn’t change war or greed or barbaric activity. Mock war? Maybe, or maybe it is a testosterone thing. I am not being sexist, I am thinking anthropological!

    • I do think you’re right about the testosterone. While there are women’s sports teams who play the same games, the attendance seems to be lower. Wonder what the gender mix in the audiences are? I’ve always thought wars would be much more efficient (and less bloody) if women were managing them.

  11. My husband says I am a Patriots and Red Sox fan rather than a football and baseball fan and I’ll take that. I like the spectacle and the snacks and rooting for the hometown team. And of course going to Gillette or Fenway is wonderful. Now that Bill is retired and not going to an office everyday, I try to keep up with the sports press enough to have a conversation.

    • Baseball moves too slowly for me. I’ve been to a couple of live games, back in the Bay Area, though never a football game (oh, and I saw the Mets play at Shea Stadium a long, long time ago). I could have had free tickets to the Superbowl the year it was held at Stanford, right down the road from me (in 1985), but I was nearly eight months pregnant and I though it might not be advisable. Sigh.

  12. I’d rather read that watch sports (except for the Olympics & then I watch most of the events). The only reason I even knew which teams were playing yesterday is because one of my coworkers is a huge Eagles fan.

  13. Not a football fan but I did watch the Eagles, since I live near Philly. I get more excited for the Puppy Bowl, quite honestly. I’d rather read.

  14. I don’t enjoy football, hockey, or boxing because of the violence and serious injuries that can occur, but I do enjoy many other like basketball, golf, baseball.

    • My father was an avid golfer (even after he lost his lower leg to diabetes)–every weekend if possible. My mother didn’t take part. I’ve never played golf, although I’m pretty good at putting.

  15. Kitten and Puppy Bowls and later Victoria on PBS. Also reading and working jigsaw puzzles. I love figure skating so will be watching the Olympics.

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