Gridiron ghosts

I'm trying to figure out why I'm not more excited about the start of football.

Maybe it's because all the lockout drama last season turned me off. Maybe it's because it's 90 degrees in South Florida and the Dolphins play here. Maybe it's because I haven't had my fantasy draft yet.

But maybe it's because of the feeling I get down deep in my stomach when I read about the results of Junior Seau's autopsy, or about Dexter Manley joining the lawsuit against the NFL, or about Gregg Williams (allegedly) telling his players whom to hurt, and how.

I grew up loving this game. Sunday afternoons, I rushed to get the dishes done, so I could plop down beside Daddy on the couch and catch the last few minutes of NFL Today. We were Redskins fans, Daddy and me. My brother and my granny, they rooted for the Cowboys, but we still claimed them as kin. (My granny also thought Don Shula and Doug Flutie were cute. See, the ladies in my family have a long history of sports appreciation.)

On autumn nights when the bitter NFC East rivals squared off, Granny would pop popcorn - on the STOVE - and make milkshakes - from SCRATCH - and we'd take up our positions. Good on one side of the living room, evil on the other. Art Monk and Joe Gibbs the forces of light. Danny White and Ed Too Tall Jones harbingers of doom.

This was where I learned some fundamental life lessons. If you yell at the idiot officials loudly enough, they CAN hear you through the television. Holding could be called, if said idiot officials felt like it, on just about every play. Quarterbacks and running backs get the glory, but they're not going anywhere without an offensive line.

I remember the despised Dallas dynasty finally going down on a January day in 1982, when Joe Montana found Clemson graduate Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone. I remember John Riggins churning through defensive linemen and carrying my team to the promised land in 1983. I remember never wanting to hear the name Marcus Allen again a year later.

Maybe you get older and these things don't matter as much. I don't know. I do know that a year of covering the Redskins soured me a bit on the team, because as long as Danny Boy runs that ship, it's going nowhere but aground.

I also know that I've read stories about Earl Campbell, Kevin Turner, Ray Easterling, Seau. I've wondered how a game to which so many gave so much could give back so little.

I've also watched quarterbacks all but get to wear their yellow jerseys on game days and seen rules change after rules change designed to keep fannies in the seats and the scoreboard ticking up, up, up. 

I wonder where the soul of this game has gone. I wonder if it's ever coming back.

I imagine that on the first Sunday (or Thursday or Saturday, whatever it is now, and assuming the opener isn't on NFL Network or ESPN Ocho) of real football, my blood will begin to boil a bit, and I'll feel a rush at the opening kickoff. I hope so.

I just miss those milkshakes.