Uncertain times as America’s game embraces the fear

If you saw the Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch plough through the Arizona Cardinals defence for a late touchdown on Sunday night, then you had the opportunity to enjoy one of the highlights of this NFL season.

Uncertain times as America’s game embraces the fear

It was another badly needed moment of brilliance and athletic prowess for the league in what has been a sub-par four months of football overall.

Lynch’s run from deep in his own half, availing of an amazing ability to stay on his feet in spite of assaults from all sides, will rank alongside the Odell Beckham Jr catch in the colours of the New York Giants which stirred the soul a month ago.

These were two feats of athleticism that elevated the game beyond the normal patterns of attack and defence which define the NFL.

When the brooding brutality of Lynch has him in this sort of mood — barrelling over defenders who scatter like skittles — he is commonly described as being in “Beast Mode”.

And when he was caught by NBC cameras staring down the opposing sideline with his huge, crazed eyes, the entertaining narrative is that of a supremely intense player instilling fear in his foe.

These Cardinals were no shrinking violets, no matter how flimsy they were made to look. Arizona had boasted a dominant set of backs that had carried them as far as they could go, injuries ridding coach Bruce Arians’ team of not one but two quarterbacks.

Sunday night was an important showdown with divisional rivals and Lynch put the fear of God in his opponents, his fourth quarter rushing touchdown eerily similar to his scoring run almost four years ago against the New Orleans Saints, when he also veered right, trampled a forlorn back and grabbed his crotch in the truest form of in-your-face celebration.

The NFL does very well when it comes to incorporating fear, like many of the better sports. Flinch and it’s over. Grown men reduced to quivering messes as soon as the balance shifts. But that’s the job and taking big hits is what they sign up for.

Fear of the long-term consequences does not compare to the fear of that moment when you’re consigned to second best.

Chris Conte — a defender for the Chicago Bears who has suffered two concussions in recent games — told a Chicago radio station last week that simply being able to play in the NFL is worth the long-term health risks.

He added during the interview that he would “rather have the experience of playing and, who knows, die 10, 15 years earlier than not be able to play in the NFL and live a long life”.

It would be difficult to expect reason from a young athlete. And maybe Conte has a point. By their very nature, a young prospects’ fear for the future is way down the list.

And let’s not forget that many of the players would choose their brains being scrambled by a high tackle over the alternative: a life lived in fear due to uncertainty over who is carrying the next gun.

I’ve just left a city in fear of what’s going to happen next. The Brooklyn neighbourhood which lies just south of where we live was in mourning and confusion this past weekend after two policemen eating their lunch in their patrol car were ambushed by a lunatic with a grudge.

There are plenty of grudges in New York City but not enough lunatics to warrant the fear and loathing being felt by the NYPD.

But could you really blame these young police officers who seem paralysed by fear?

In midtown on Saturday night, I passed a precinct being guarded by a policeman whose expression said it all; the next bullet could be coming down the block and I’m the unlucky one whose turn it is to be on the door, keeping bad guys out.

The policeman had that same crazed stare that Lynch did 24 hours later, but of course there’s a large and tragic difference between the damage wreaked by an armed and disturbed man and a running back.

Suffice to say that as I write this on the early morning plane into Dublin Airport at the end of a red eye from JFK, I’m glad to be leaving the atmosphere of fear behind for a week.

The country is simmering and we can only hope that 2015 brings some reason. In the meantime, the violent escapism of the NFL playoffs, set against the pantomime backdrop of fear and loathing, will make hypocrites of us all.

johnwriordan@gmail.com

Twitter: @JohnWRiordan

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