By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist
Gambling on the National Football League got off to a slow start out here in the Rockies this season, and nobody blamed it on Baseball -- or NASCAR racing
either, for that matter, or even the annual Oklahoma-Texas showdown. Not even the L.A. Lakers playing an exhibition game in Oklahoma City could compete with War, Fear and Terrorism on the national stage. The Great American appetite for total War seems to have finally triumphed over its love of Sport and Gambling.
I deplore this, but so what? How many Oil Wells do the Denver Broncos own? Or the New York Yankees?
It is nothing, compared to the long-suffering nation of Iraq. That is elementary, Mr. Blue. The USA has dominated Baseball and (American-style) Football from time-immemorial, but nobody east of the Hudson seems to care.
This weekend was a Monster for the NFL and everything it wants to stand for. There were awesome displays of Speed and Violence, on a scale that made baseball look like slow-motion. ... The contrast was day and night. ... One so-called "evening baseball game" took four-and-a-half hours, and that was just a run-up to the horrible tedium of the upcoming World Series, which once again is overstaying its welcome. The season should be trimmed back to about 110 games, which would give it a whole new back-to-school DEMOGRAPHIC that would have the baseball season officially over with by Labor Day.
Why not? Baseball is a summer-time game, in most all-American towns, and Football is not. The seasonal confusion is only a factor of human Greed. It
has that good old familiar odor, the stench of Mendacity. More games = more money. More money = more teams. More teams mean more NFL T-shirts sold, and
a dark new wave of public lewdness and promiscuity among innocent teen-age girls.
There is a rumor around sporting circles in Denver that some folks plan to market T-shirts with nipple holes cut in the chest next year, or even this one. ... But it gets cold out here in the wilderness as autumn wears on. Last night, it was 22 degrees Fahrenheit and sinking steadily. Any scheme to sell topless football shirts would meet with public ridicule and rejection, if only because of the Colorado weather. That fine new stadium the Broncos have over there might be huge and modern and finely-manicured -- but it ain't weather-proof; there is no escape from the vicious blizzards and ice storms.
And so much for that, eh? Who needs public lewdness in a time of fear and depression like this? Not me, bubba. Watching Denver lose to Miami with six seconds to go on Sunday night was hard enough on TV -- and hell, we had a big stack of apple-wood burning in the fireplace. ... I won heavily for the second week in a row, leaving me nicely ahead in the W-L column, but way behind on the total money earnings.
The reason for this, of course, is that people are betting less money on football games this season, because they have less. A broke person doesn't mind making a small bet or two here or there, but a poor person won't, because he can no longer afford to spend cash on anything. He (or she) is far beyond being temporarily short of "cash" in this brutal winter of 2002. ...
No. That is what "broke" used to mean. But "poor" means permanent.
Ricky Williams' Dolphins paid a mighty price for their victory in Denver.
I have lived through almost 50 pro football seasons, thus far -- along with five or six major economic depressions and constant wars all over the world -- but I'll be dipped in dung if I can remember a year in the life of this nation that was played out against at bleaker and more ominous historical backdrop than the one we have today.
The quality of the football we see today is no doubt better than ever. The players are bigger, faster and enormously richer. There are three or four
current teams in the NFL that would have visibly intimidated the best teams of yesteryear, including the '85 49ers and the '68 Packers.
Either one of the teams in that blood-curdling Sunday night game would run away from those sluggards who ruled their roost in the old days. The
Dolphins and the Broncos played a genuinely brutal football game that both teams lost. Denver lost on the scoreboard, and Miami lost its quarterback,
all for a silly little "W" on their record. Both were once-beaten coming in, and now -- after inflicting many crippling wounds on each other in public for
three ball-busting hours -- both Miami and Denver are structurally weaker than they were on Sunday morning. ...
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What is a bloody two-point victory worth, if it costs you your starting quarterback and your strong safety for the rest of the season? The Broncos are better off in defeat than the Dolphins are in victory -- which is a dismal thing to say about the two best teams in the league at this stage of the season, but it's true. That Sunday
night game was qualitatively hurtful on both sides and opened the Super Bowl race up, once again, to some squirrelly team like New England or New Orleans.
Even the winless St. Louis Rams came out of their injury-plagued funk long enough, last week, to torpedo the unbeaten Raiders. Both the NFC and the AFC
look oddly scrambled this year. We are entering a time of Extreme Parity.
At least it will be better, bigger and faster than the World Series. Not even George Steinbrenner's deeply tainted millions will keep baseball alive
forever. The Yankees payroll would cover three or four teams in the NFL, maybe 16 or 17, and they are no more dependable than goats when the weather
turns cold, anyway. Baseballs freeze in the winter, so they can't bounce normally. ... I know this from horrible experience: I once walked 22
consecutive batters on a chilly night in Taylorsville, Ky.
But that is another story, and we will save it for later -- maybe for some warm summer night when bands are playing, and children shout, and perverts work
the bathrooms under the bleachers. You bet. That is where baseball belongs.
Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's books include "Hell's Angels," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72," "The Proud Highway," Better Than Sex" and "The Rum Diary." His new book, "Fear and Loathing in America," has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears regularly on Page 2.