Football’s impact on society


A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday.

The thought of any stoppage of play in the NFL has football fans everywhere on edge. It’s not hard to understand why. As Howie Long stated in his 2000 enshrinement speech from the front steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “baseball may be this country’s pastime but football is its passion.”

It’s the passion for the NFL that has made pro football this country’s most popular sport. People are often surprised to learn that, in fact, the NFL has been the most popular sport in the U.S. since the mid-1960s!

Today and tomorrow, Hall of Famer Art Shell is at the Pro Football Hall of Fame taking part in our annual Black History Month seminar as part of our ongoing and award-winning Educational Program. Shell will talk about the trials and tribulations of growing up as an African American in the 1960s. He’ll surely touch upon what pride he took in becoming the NFL’s first black head coach of the modern era when the Raiders hired him in 1989. Here's a shot of Art speaking with the students on hand in our NFL Films Theater. Hundreds of other high school students across the country are engaging with Shell through our videconferencing technology.

But, Shell’s visit to Canton reminds me of another moment that proves just how important the NFL is to the social fabric of this country. The Raiders were truly one of the great dynasty teams of all-time. The team had a roster filled with  many star players and future Hall of Famers including Shell who spanned the long-tenured success the Silver & Black enjoyed from the late ‘60s through the 1980s.

But, it was the 1980 Raiders team that showed just how intertwined football is with life in this country. That season Oakland qualified for the playoffs as a wildcard team which meant their road to the Super Bowl was a challenging one to say the least. Symbolic it was as this country was amidst one of its most challenging and tumultuous times.  Americans were faced with the tension of the growing Cold War, a struggling economy, and the fact that 52 of its citizens were being held hostage in Iran.

Then, there was hope. Five days before Oakland faced the Philadelphia Eagles in the Louisiana Superdome with the NFL title on the line, the entire country rejoiced. That’s because the American hostages were safely released after 444 days in captivity.

The solidarity of the country had been symbolized by a yellow ribbon that was displayed throughout the hostage crisis. It was ever so evident at the Super Bowl from the large 80’x30’ ribbon on the side of the Superdome to the yellow stripes on the back of the players’ helmets, to the 80,000 mini ribbons handed out to the fans who attended the game.

The Super Bowl was the perfect outlet for celebration in this country. For Shell and the Raiders, it was the finishing touches on an amazing season that included fighting as underdogs to bring home the Vince Lombardi Trophy. They did so in spectacular fashion with a 27-10 win over their NFC counterparts. The loss stung for Philly and also produced one of my favorite all-time quotes. Eagles coach Dick Vermeil stated with emotion, “anyone who says one game cannot ruin a season has never lost a Super Bowl.”

For the Raiders, it was history in the making. Oakland became the first wildcard team to win a Super Bowl.  Not only did Raiders fans celebrate but an entire nation reveled in the game that was the perfect cap to an exhilarating week of news off the football field.

The game of pro football most undoubtedly is an important part of our American culture. And like our society, it will endure and grow regardless of what this offseason brings.

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