I thought, from that morning on, I would be scoring touchdowns ... all my life and never be touched or tackled.
What our brilliant and possibly only beatnik running back was feeling when he wrote those words was the exhilaration of the beginning of a new football season. It's tribal. We've all felt it. It's the optimism that comes when car-dealership-sized flags start flapping in every wind from San Diego to Foxborough and friendships left dormant since the Super Bowl are renewed, as the opening of the new NFL season unlocks a change in the pace of life. More beer is sold, fewer weddings are planned. It's obsession from the top down. A week from Sunday the White House television will be tuned to the Bears and the Lions at Soldier Field, while according to those rollicking trained-observers at Politico the rest of D.C. becomes balkanized. (Kelly's Irish Times is a Patriots bar; the Pour House a Steelers joint; the Rhino Bar and Pumphouse in G'town an Eagles hangout; the 51st State, down near GW, a big Giants-Jets-Bills mudfest, and so on.) Back in the day, our most shamed president, Richard Nixon, would keep his calendar clear on NFL Sundays and Redskins coach George Allen's phone number handy. Even liberals liked him for that. So too his most insightful nemesis, Hunter S. Thompson, would begin his day with a tumbler of Chivas and a call list two pages long. (Gambling may have been involved.) These are all very old tribes.
"Welcome to the NFL" has become business argot as a macho celebration of the league's almost stupefying success—the richest sports league in the world, an $8.5 billion business with tough, strategic leadership. (An executive familiar with the broadcasting deals surrounding the game played in London every year says that negotiating with the BBC is like "negotiating with Bambi.") On each of the five floors at NFL HQ, in Manhattan, a Countdown to Game Time clock tracks the days, hours, minutes, seconds and tenths of a second to the Saints-Vikings game leading in to the opening weekend. Tick, tock.
That Thursday before the game, New Orleans will have its second Mardi Gras--style NFL parade in seven months with floats representing all 16 Week 1 matchups, as part of a "football and music festival" full up with politicians, chefs, musicians and ex-NFL players bent on throwing a party for the whole town, not just for those upstanding citizens of Who Dat nation with reserved Superdome seats. In his classic On the Road, Kerouac wrote about his love of what he called "the muds" of New Orleans, where he found "the children of the American bop night." If he could make the scene at the parade (good luck scoring a ticket to the game), he'd find himself with fans still fighting through the economic and bureaucratic hangover of Katrina, sad-eyed from watching the biggest accidental spill in the history of the Gulf wash ashore, yet absolutely certain that the Saints were already on their way to Super Bowl XLV next February at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Coming from the hard dirt sandlots of Lowell, Mass., where he once scored nine touchdowns in a single game, Kerouac the halfback learned the optimism that he rode to a football scholarship to Columbia, and later took on the road. "Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me ..." he wrote. He would have loved the Saints.