Monday, December 13, 2010

The Primal Force of Nature

In the 1976 movie "Network," Peter Finch's character (the TV newsman known for ranting that he was "mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!") was told by Ned Beatty's character (the chairman of the conglomerate that owned the TV network), "You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you must atone!"

I had a similar sensation yesterday when I watched the video of the collapse of the roof of Minneapolis' Metrodome.

The bad weather had already forced the postponement of the game — the New York Giants, who were scheduled to face the Vikings, couldn't get there because of it — but that wasn't really relevant. The collapse occurred when most of the fans who were planning to attend probably were still snuggling in their warm beds. It was 5 a.m. No one was there.

It is fortunate, indeed, that the roof collapsed when it did, that it didn't wait about seven hours — when more than 60,000 fans were expected to be in those seats.

But in the absence of loss of life, I have found myself pondering the supposedly controlled environments in which many football and baseball teams must play.

It wasn't always this way.

When I was growing up, many of the most memorable games were played in adverse conditions — including games in Minnesota.

It's been more than four decades since the "Ice Bowl" was played, but people still speak of it.

When I was in college at the University of Arkansas, the football team played a bowl game in a fog that was as thick as pea soup. I wasn't there, but I watched it on TV. And I can remember more details of that game than I can of games I watched yesterday.

And just about 35 years ago — in an NFC playoff game on Dec. 28, 1975 — Dallas' Roger Staubach threw the pass that was dubbed the "Hail Mary" pass.

Watch it in the attached clip. That white stuff along the sidelines is snow.

Previous generations called such a play an "Alley–Oop." But, as the saying goes, a rose by any other name ...

My point is that the condition at gametime is the kind of intangible neither team can really prepare for. Victory belongs to the team that can make the needed adjustments first.

And sometimes I wonder if humans have simply been meddling with the primal forces of nature in their attempt to create ideal conditions for the teams and their fans.

Sure, in some circumstances, I can see the wisdom of building an indoor facility for what is essentially an outdoor game. It rains so much in Seattle, for example, that I can see how it would be difficult to complete a baseball season there without an indoor facility.

But football games are different. Football games have always been played in all kinds of weather. It takes something really severe — like flash floods or extremely strong winds or lightning — to interfere with a football game.

Personally, I always thought the possibility of bad weather gave the home team an added incentive to win. After all, who wants to come out to watch a losing team play in the rain or the snow or the fog?

The Vikings of the 1970s made the game conditions part of their home field advantage.

Maybe the indoor stadiums are better — for the fans' comfort — but I think something good has been lost.

Perhaps, when the Vikings return to Minneapolis for their final home game next Monday, a local outdoor stadium will be used — and Minnesota football fans can experience football the way it once was in Minneapolis.

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