No Pepper Games: Numerology
Post by Cincinnatus Van... on 9/24/2012 10:37am
Gather round children, while I read to ye from the Book Of Numbers.
Today's number is 47.
You football fans in the crowd are way ahead of me.
From 1956 - 1960, John Unitas of the Baltimore Colts threw at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games. From that day to this, the number 47 has stood alone on the NFL mountaintop and has never been approached.
Since that time, we've been from Brown vs. Board Of Education to Barack Obama, from I Love Lucy to Lady Gaga, Eisenhower was President, the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series, Elvis was thin, and the number 47 has stood for excellence and consistency in the art of quarterbacking.
As of yesterday, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints has thrown a touchdown in 46 consecutive games. Next week, the Saints come to Lambeau. Nothing about the Packers' pass defense suggests that Drew Brees will be kept from the end zone on Sunday (given the state of the Packers' defense, I doubt they could deny Clara Peller a touchdown pass).
Mr. Brees is a fine quarterback. He is no John Unitas. When Drew Brees holds the record, it will not mean as much.
When Unitas set the record, defenses had all the restraint of TSA agents. There was no "pass interference." Receivers regularly returned to the huddle minus their wallets, shoes, and pants.
The game has changed. The NFL likes touchdowns. Touchdowns drive ratings and sell tickets. Thus has the NFL’s rules committee deemed that there shall be no inconvenient defensing downfield. The rules covering pass defense now read like the handbook for Montessori kindergarten teachers.
Where John Unitas once aimed his passes through the driving snow past the likes of Ray Nitschke, Drew Brees plays in a climate controlled dome, while pass rushers fret about not touching his cranium.
When the game changes, does it mean as much when a sacred number topples?
Here's another sacred number: 755.
The game of baseball changed fundamentally between Babe Ruth’s time and Hank Aaron’s. Ruth, playing in the lily-white league of his day, never had to face the best black pitchers of his generation. One imagines that, had Satchel Paige played American League ball, Babe Ruth’s sacred 714 might be just a couple numbers lower.
When Aaron took the record, it was a triumph for the civil rights movement. It was the fulfillment of the Jackie Robinson moment. The dream that, between the foul lines, it's not the color of a man's skin that marks his worth, but whether he can hit a breaking ball deep to left.
Hammerin' Hank Aaron held the crown jewel of baseball hitting records from July 20, 1976 to August 7, 2007.
Then Barry Bonds broke the record.
Barry Bonds’ record reverberates with none of the nobility of Hank Aaron’s. Bonds is a triumph of better living through chemistry.
Baseball as Bonds played it was fundamentally different than the way Henry Aaron played it. The force required to hit a baseball out of a major-league park equals mass times acceleration. Bonds threw the mass part of that equation massively out of whack.
The Bonds number means less than the Aaron number. The game has changed.
There's another sacred number:
Amendment One of the Constitution tells us that we have the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Wisconsin Capitol Police have a new chief named Dave Erwin. Mr. Erwin has decided that he doesn’t like people peaceably assembling and petitioning the government in “his” Capitol. He has sent officers to the homes of protestors. He has inconsistently applied the rules.
He has changed the rules of the game.
Subtract one right from Amendment one, and you’re left with zero. When you change the rules of the game, the numbers mean nothing.
What Mr. Erwin is tinkering with is far more important than any touchdown or home run record. You can not shut down the voices of those you disagree with, even when they smell like patchouli oil and sing off-key Woody Guthrie numbers.
Are you afraid of ragtag bands of singing hippies, Mr. Erwin? If so, may I suggest that Madison is not a good town for you?
The entire point of Amendment One is to ensure that we cannot shut down the voices of those we disagree with, because, at some point, we are all going to have a grievance with the government. You may not like these ragamuffins, but their rights are your rights.
If Amendment One doesn’t apply to everyone, then it applies to no one.
Numbers in sports are impermanent things. Even a revered milestone like the Unitas record must someday fall.
Numbers in Democracy are different. Your founders put Amendment One in that primary position for a reason. Much blood has been shed in defense of the liberties that Amendment One represents. This is not a game, and these are not rules to be tinkered with lightly.