Professional football is the most popular sport in the United States, judging from fan and media interest, but it has changed through the years and has become very boring and formulaic, so much so that it has become difficult to watch. I recall back in the Frank Gifford days of the New York Giants how players were true warriors a la Sam Huff, and you could almost touch them from the seats at Yankee Stadium. They were also part of the local community. Many of the non-marquee players lived in ordinary houses and worked selling cars or at Sears in the off season. Also they did not move around a lot and stayed with their teams until their playing days were over, after which they became high-school coaches.

Today football is all glitz and marketing, largely driven by greed on the part of both players and owners, fueled by a frenzied media. Players move around a lot to make more money and games that used to end at four o’clock now end at four-thirty because there are more ads to squeeze in. Play is stopped for television time outs and at kick-offs and punts there is little more than ten seconds of actual play sandwiched between two blocs of ads addressing such key issues as erectile dysfunction and discount double checks. Penalties also stop play frequently while the new rules that often do not allow players to touch each other lest they get hurt are largely incomprehensible. And then there are the huge American flags that have become as large as the entire playing field, waggled obligingly by girls and guys from the local National Guard outfit when the hip-hop singer reaches the words “star-spangled banner still waves,” followed closely by an approving roar from the forty thousand drunks up in the stands. One announcer this weekend told the television audience that the game was going out to American troops in 175 countries and “we can’t describe what they do for us.” Indeed.

But on Saturday something odd happened. Underdog Baltimore was playing Denver and the game went into overtime. I don’t know exactly what happened but it appeared that the network ran out of commercials because the play went into a second overtime almost uninterrupted. The players, featuring future hall of famers in linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Peyton Manning, were actually seen to pick up their pace, playing hard as if they really meant it. The officials refrained from making ridiculous calls. It was actually exciting and fun to watch. It was what America and football on a Sunday afternoon used to be all about, but it was likely just a quirk, similar to Jupiter aligning with Mars every 11 years. It probably won’t happen again.