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Gristmill: Flagged

Thu, 11/30/2023 - 09:25
Fordham Rams football players singing the school fight song on Nov. 4 after beating the Bucknell Bisons in the Bronx.
Baylis Greene

It's a fine line between enthusiasm and foolishness, between something to talk about and an utter waste of time, between gripping, unscripted drama and its systematic dismantling for no sane reason whatsoever.

Such is the life of a football fan. 

This one's still smarting from the way the refs took the wood to his beloved Buffalo Bills, New York State's only N.F.L. franchise, in the late game Sunday, a deflating, playoff-compromising overtime loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, on whom the sun seems to be always shining lately. Ten penalties against Buffalo in the first half alone. 

The zebras' yellow kerchiefs have been flying this year, even to the consternation of announcers like Al Michaels of "Thursday Night Football," who at nearly 80 is unafraid to let what passes for his hair down. "And, what else, a flag," he dryly informed viewers during a recent broadcast, after half a season of seeing them. 

It's akin to overengineering, which the newly retired Tom Brady was only too happy to lambaste the other day on Stephen A. Smith's show — all the rules changes to protect players that fail to do just that, all the rules changes to favor the offense that in fact only hinder the action. With more flags, of course.

Admittedly, it's a tough job, officiating, you might say thankless. But if it's nigh unto impossible to apply the league's unrealistic strictures evenly across the board, then the refs should follow the example of their N.B.A. brethren and swallow their whistles during the closing minutes and let 'em play.

Which they seem to be doing at the college level. With my Fordham freshman son I caught the Rams' last two home games in the Bronx this fall: close, exciting contests punctuated by long bombs that weren't called back; far fewer delays in the action; vocal, knowledgeable fans; happy cheerleaders who, yes, have to maintain a 2.5 G.P.A. to so much as shake a pompom; a dozen players taking a knee in pregame prayer from the near end zone, facing toward Keating Hall and the parade grounds, the heart of the campus; the ringing of the Victory Bell after a win, the 1946 gift of Admiral Nimitz from a Japanese aircraft carrier, and, after the final home game, still suited-up players serenading the departing crowd with the school fight song, "Hail! Rams of Fordham, hail! On to the fray!"   

From 1905 to 2013 it was hail "men" of Fordham, but it's a new day. The point is, this is sport as it should be. 

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