As Sports on Earth turns 1, staff columnist Chuck Culpepper seeks sports, on Earth. He is spending 14 days rounding the only planet we know well, taking the pulse and temperature of sports in various regions at this particular time in this very large world.
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SEATTLE -- And by August 2013 the mighty chunk of the Earth called "United States" had gone devoured, swallowed by a rapacious beast known as "NFL." And this NFL did eat everything.
It chewed up February, which it used to eschew. It tore into a March that used to ignore it, with the snowballing curiosity over its "draft" even though that "draft" would not come until the usual April, and with a Welker changing residences and catching practice passes from a Manning upon a field with no defenders, which appeared as gobbled-up news. Not content with merely crazy popularity, this NFL had ingested some discussion time even in May and June until sometimes it seemed the nation must augment the calendar.
That way, it could talk about the NFL for 13 months.
Whenever this NFL could not get bigger, it somehow got bigger. A citizen could leave the country in 2006 with the NFL a mastodon, live abroad for six years, return to the country in 2012 and find the NFL a larger mastodon. And the mania did reach all the way to the last-settled edge of the land -- well, especially to the last-settled edge of the land, with its San Francisco and its Seattle.
So if you roamed the Earth in August 2013, if you began aiming west toward the Pacific, and if you stopped in Seattle on your way out, well, bingo. The evidence of the NFL beast shouted even in a city enamored enough with that foreign kind of football that the American soccer maven Clint Dempsey said it reminds him of Europe.
At this telltale time, a Seattle receiver, a Golden Tate, prepared for a road game while plausibly believing he would draw contempt from the home fans. He had seen this prospect on Twitter. He had girded himself openly. It had created the kind of NFL chatter that seemed to get the country through the days sometimes.
And this did not seem unusual or absurd except for the details that this would be a preseason game, which demonstrated the appetite on several layers. For one thing, it reminded that the people did attend these preseason games, even though every team remained 0-0. Yet while the people had been doing that for decades under the ticket packages, the chatter and anticipation around preseason games in this NFL did seem unprecedented, the public ever more curious and plausibly even somehow venomous.
And this very idea of venom for a preseason game did seem to ratify the NFL big-bigness, for booing at a preseason game would seem a special misuse of lungs.
Yet this NFL had grown so big that the home fans in Green Bay would need to blame someone for an unforgotten injustice of the previous September, when a botched call in an end zone on the last play of a game sent the nation into fury and hand-wringing as well as pitched conversation. And this occasion would get its own page on the Wikipedia, as would a war or a riot or a pope. And it did fiddle with the playoff order, when little trumped the importance of the playoff order. And this did satisfy one of the great needs of all humanity, the need to pillory an errant referee, to strike back at the referee's ultimate power to grant happiness or mourning at any turn.
Yet this receiver, Tate, had acknowledged neither the flimsiness of his "touchdown" nor the clear view that an M.D. Jennings had caught the ball for an interception, and that only then had this Tate reached in to share it with him. So the displeasure had spread all the way into preseason, that time of hope and lightheartedness, that part of the year meaningful only to football-geek coaches and anonymous players in silent second halves.
And while the Packers fans would don T-shirts opposing the "touchdown," this Tate would reply in kind: He would invent his own T-shirt. On the front: DON'T HATE. On the back: GOLDEN TATE. And in the NFL universe of the United States, this T-shirt would do what a T-shirt is supposed to do in the United States.
It would go on sale.
And while a T-shirt about a regular-season game from the prior season would go on sale, the boos at a preseason game would go on Tate. And it would give the people at the stadium something to do.
So most cherished month of the American sports year, September, would be coming, and the anticipation in this Seattle would be worthwhile. For even to the objective, the Seahawks of the previous year had been uncommonly likable, watchable. It had been slightly sad to see them go when they did go, in Atlanta. And so the replica shirts for Mr. Russell Wilson did hang in the windows and the racks. And the skillful ad campaign around the stadium did go, "BIGGER. FASTER. STRONGER. LOUDER" (in a country known for not minding the "LOUDER" part).
And as September came rushing, the plane went whooshing off over the Pacific with this thought: Here's this enormous monster, gathering ever more noise and popularity, yet beyond this shore here, does anyone care?
Nine hours and 23 minutes later, the plane landed at Narita near Tokyo. The screens showed the English-language news, which read, "Ichiro Gets 4,000th Hit." A Japanese boy sitting in a Japanese stadium told a TV reporter, with a translated subtitle, "He's like a god."