In the Graham family, I’m the athlete, which is not saying a lot. I’m an athlete in the style of Oprah, not Lance. I can trot through a half marathon and not have to take to my bed, and this puts me in the 90th-or-whatever percentile of what passes for fitness in these states. Still, the last time I went for a massage, I asked for the “Runner’s Revenge” and was asked why. No matter how many pairs of Sauconys I wear out, an endomorph I remain.
When I was 20, this would have troubled me, the reality that I inhabit a body more suited to covering Tom Brady on AstroTurf than in a Stetson ad. But the older I get, the more comfortable I am as a small tank, and I am never more at ease in my skin than when watching a football game. Football is, after all, the only American sport in which a significant proportion of the athletes are candidates for Jenny Craig. Sure, Eli Manning is fit, but he’s only one of 45 Giants who will be suited up come Sunday, and let’s be honest, not all their ends are tight. And yet, oh yes, they’re still lovely to watch.
In no other endeavor would a 380-pound lineman whose nickname derives from a kitchen appliance be considered graceful and deft. Baseball forgives the overweight, if they’ve been around long enough, but it’s still painful to watch a heavyweight huff around the bases. Long-distance running, long the domain of the ectomorph, now offers “Clydesdale” and “Athena” divisions for the hefty, but the race directors only want our entry fees; no one wants to watch us run. And no one who swims competitively is fat.
Until the Southeastern Conference sanctions sumo wrestling, football is the only platform on which the supersized are glamorized and admired. And it is a symbiotic union, the players and the fans. The Super Bowl, it is said, is the second-highest day of food consumption in the U.S., only behind Thanksgiving, which has some passing acquaintance with football as well. Here in Boston this week, there is no foodstuff so trivial that it cannot be adorned with a Patriot and packaged invitingly by the cash register. (Granted, there is also no non-foodstuff that cannot be marketed this way; today I drove past a veterinary clinic hawking “Patriot items for pets!” Really, how bad can the economy be?)
Football invites gluttony like no other athletic endeavor. Sure, baseball has its hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack, but that’s dainty finger food compared to a collegiate tailgate party, which can make the KFC all-you-can-eat buffet look like a mere appetizer. For other sports, well, there’s popcorn. Gatorade if you compete.
Super Bowl gorging is the perfect storm of Christmas reflux long forgotten and New Year’s diets newly abandoned. Really, it’s our destiny to pig out. What can you expect from a game that, at its inception, was played with an inflated pig bladder? Even the term pigskin comes, all too literally, from the casings that once fashioned the modern ball, so true fans should honor its origins with a bag of pork rinds on Sunday, along with a skillet of cracklin’ bread. If you’re not a southerner, look it up. Every food website has an end zone full of Super Bowl party recipes for preparation and ingestion by people who, hours before kickoff, couldn’t identify a single player on either team.
About 130 million people, many of whom know nothing about football, will watch a portion of the Super Bowl on Sunday. About 122 million people, many of whom know nothing about issues, voted in the 2004 presidential election. Four years ago, some 78 million eligible voters stayed home. How, then, should candidates woo the disinterested voter? Barbecue, probably. It’s the lack of food in the democratic process that is keeping the electorate away.
We’re expected to watch all these tedious debates, yet no one’s at the door handing out Diet Coke and peanuts. Where’s the caterer? Where are the vendors? Lincoln and Douglas went at it for three hours at a time, and people stuck around because they’d brought picnics. Try to smuggle in a hoagie the next time Clinton and Obama meet, and you’ll never get through security. Pity. The candidate who really inspires the electorate, like Caroline’s father did, will be the one who understands that as the blood-sugar level goes, so goes the nation.
Some people say a fat man can never be elected president in high-definition America. Of course he can. He just needs Virginia hams and New England hamstrings, and a couple of good photo ops in shoulder pads. — Jennifer Graham is a writer in the suburbs of Boston.