The old day of rest has been forgotten

October 17, 1994|By PHIL JACKMAN

Autumn Sundays used to be so slow they nearly backed up into Saturday. It was called a day of rest, and they weren't kidding. Raking leaves was a welcomed relief from snoozing in a chair in the parlor. Stores were shut tight, save for a pharmacy or two.

Nearly everyone went to church, and the only work being done was kids delivering the Sunday paper or caddying for golfers -- but only for nine holes. Cars were mostly inert. Mom, after cooking the big Sunday feast, caught a break, preparing just sandwiches for supper.

Kids didn't mind seeing Monday come at all, because chances are they had done their homework (almost) to relieve the boredom. My, how times have changed.

There are traffic jams, even without Chief Cooke's 78,000-seat stadium in Laurel, and whole shopping malls are open and doing decent business, while church attendance is at the point of embarrassment. Lawnmowers whine, people are out running early-morning races and it has become a big activity day.

As big a "beneficiary" of this change as anyone or anything, perhaps, has been professional football. Think about it. When the games began coming on the television 40 years ago, the NFL had pretty much a captive audience. While the crowds in the stadiums weren't overwhelming (50 percent capacity was the norm in the '50s), thousands were being indoctrinated to the game via the tube.

After Army and Michigan played before a packed house in Yankee Stadium on a Saturday in 1950, they didn't even bother opening up the upper deck of the Polo Grounds the next afternoon as the conference-leading Giants were squeezing by the Redskins. A couple of years before, only a smattering of fans were on hand at Fenway Park to watch Sammy Baugh pass the Boston Yanks dizzy. The Skins, by the way, originated in Beantown.

Yesterday's lineup of pro games was impressive, fans having a choice of three games in the early afternoon, followed by two more at 4 p.m., assuming they had access to the Fox and NBC affiliates in Washington. There was no game last night owing to the fact TNT had sent along the Browns-Oilers snore Thursday.

No matter the quality of the games, though, ratings to be announced later in the week will divulge impressive numbers. The networks and TNT are at least even or ahead of last year's ratings, including Fox, which took over for CBS, long regarded as the official spokesman for Sunday afternoon ball.

Our allegiances are a lot more than indoctrination, moving almost all the way up to brainwashing. Our crowding around the sets at 1 p.m. Sunday, and an hour earlier for those true believers who gobble up the pre-game shows, is the best commercial for how effective propaganda can be.

Saturday, for instance, provided what just might have been the best stretch of football ever recorded by camera. The excitement commenced at noon with No. 1 Florida taking on those bad boys from Auburn (unrecognized in the coaches' poll) and the latter won, 36-33. The final score doesn't indicate the closeness of the competition.

Before Penn State (3) decisioned Michigan (5), 31-24, with a touchdown inside the last three minutes, No. 17 Notre Dame lost to Brigham Young, 21-14, threatening mightily at the end to score and either win or lose as a result of a two-point conversion try.

Following the debacle for the lead in the Big Ten (plus one, Penn State), Tennessee led unbeaten Alabama (10) until the waning moments before losing, 17-13, and Colorado (4) put a severe hurt on Oklahoma (22), 45-7. Nebraska's 17-6 victory over Kansas State involving the second- and 16th-rated teams and No. 14 Arizona nipping Washington State (20), 10-7, were available on ABC's extremely reasonable (cheap) ABC pay-per-view setup.

For a couple of years now and with rights-fee dough flying around like Monopoly money, the Bowl Alliance has been attempting to come up with a national championship game around a road block constructed by the Big Ten, the Pacific-10 and ABC. Check out the games just about the entire nation had access to Saturday and kick yourself if you didn't at least take a peek.

Football is excitement, action and caring, all the things the collegiate game provides while running about 20 more plays than a pro game and opening things up with formations and innovations that make the NFL pro-set appear as if it has been around since the Java Man.

Still, no matter what, the undergrads don't come near the ratings the pros unless it's a night game for the mythical national title . . . and the nearly 107,000 in Ann Arbor, the 97,000 in Knoxville and the 86,000 in Gainesville probably couldn't care less.

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