|Superbowl L1 (51) was played yesterday, Sunday February 5. We are a bit late to offer some reflection: Superbowl has become an unofficial National Holiday. The following first appeared in The Fayetteville Observer, Sunday January 31, 1988, and since reprinted every year in various publications. The style is owed to the best story teller of all time, the late NC actor, Andy Griffin But first, a word about Verdi’s’ Otello:
I: Verdi’s Otello
This year’s super bowl fell on February 5, the same day Verdi’s Opera, Otello, opened at Teatro Alla Scala, Milan, Italy, February 5, 1887. By the way, Shakespeare’s play is Othello, but Verdi’s opera is Otello. The opening of Otello was just as spectacular and hyped up as is the super bowl sporting event. Arturo Toscanini (March 25, 1867 – January 16, 1957, lived to be almost 90 years old and died on Mozart’s birthday) held the first chair cello in Maestro Verdi’s orchestra at the premiere of Otello. The opera was received with a tumultuous public endorsement. Verdi was not only a beloved composer and the quintessence of the 19th century Italian opera, but he was hailed as a hero capable of bringing various semi-independent political hegemonies under one government and one king. The political pundits promulgated Verdi as an acronym for Viva Emanuel Rei (Reign) D’Italia (Long live Victor Emanuel King of Italy). Yes, the war-torn Italy was united because of the work of a composer, the beloved Maestro Verdi. At the conclusion of the opera, near midnight of February 5, 1887, there were thousands of people in the streets shouting Viva Verdi. Toscanini, the young gifted cellist, was very excited about the triumphant premiere of Otello. He wrote “I went home after midnight. I was very excited. I knelt at my mother’s bedside, and woke her up with a scream ‘Mama, Otello was a success.’ Maestro Verdi is a miracle maker. Viva Maestro Verdi, Viva Verdi…” That evening Verdi could not sleep, because throngs of people gathered outside of his window chanting Viva Verdi. Otello, just like Nabucco, debuted in 1842, was an unbelievable triumph. We will devote several essays to Italian Operas in the months to come.
II: American Football Loses Something in Translation
A while back, my sports-minded, slim, trim, 67-year-old sister, from Iran was visiting us in America. In her younger days in Iran, she had taught physical education, science and music. So, her interest in American sports was genuine. One day she asked me to explain American football to her. I tried. We sat down on a Monday night to Cowboys/Bears game on television. “The ball, why is the ball egg-shaped and not round? She asked.” “I don’t know,” I said.
Then came the kickoff, the convergence of defense and offense, I could not quickly find an equivalent for “first and ten” in Farsi (the Iranian language) as I translated play by-play. So I set out to say “You see, Khanum Baji-respected form of addressing an elder sister–, the offense, that is the team that has the ball, has four chances to gain ten yards…” by the time I had gotten this far, a Bear defense had intercepted Danny White’s pass with what the color commentator was colorfully and hyperthyroidically screaming on top of his lungs as “a spectacular, fantastic and unbelievable catch’n runback.” Golly, I was getting behind my translating. The interceptor was tackled.
“Why these fellows beating on the guy who intercepted the ball?” she asked “Oh, they are just congratulating him!” I said. “I can’t believe it, look; they are hitting him on the head and pushing him around as hard as they can…” “Khanum Baji, please take my word for it. This is just a friendly celebration of their victory. There are somethings that you just have to take on faith…” I exhorted. She was not satisfied. I could tell from her subtle frown. By now, an injured Bear was being worked on, Frank Gifford guessed that he “must have had the wind knocked out of him,” as I translated faithfully. “What do you mean the wind knocked out of him?” She asked in disbelief, “The guy is half dead. He is not moving. He has been lying on the field for five minutes. I really don’t want to watch this violence…” “Okay, I said.” We started to move when the TV cameras panned Mike Ditka on the sideline. He was spitting all over the place and maniacally pacing the sideline. “Why does that guy spit so much?” she asked pointing at Ditka. “I don’t know,” I replied. The next play was a Bear touchdown, We were ready to change channels, but my sister, hearing the thunderous applause asked me to explain to her what had happened. I did. “Why are these half-naked women doing this lewd dance after the ball carrier spiked the ball?” she asked. What are those fluffy frilly things they are twirling?” she asked. “Pom Poms” I said. “They add to the excitement.” I added. I explained the function of the cheerleaders: Cheerleading is a highly competitive field. Cheerleaders are a national resource honored by Playboy, Penthouse, Presidents, Senators and Congressmen.” She interrupted me: “There they go again, beating the guy who carried the ball and scored,” she observed, “They are celebrating again,” I said. “Will they arrest or penalize those who knocked out the other guy?” she asked. “No, Khanum Baji, they are heroes, they get their pictures in the paper.” I said. People love violence. My sister’s frown got a mite deeper. “Tell me, is this a state supported game?” she asked. “No, Sis, It is private enterprise at work.” I explained. “You see, the players go on strike if they don’t get their way. An average player makes around $250,000 for six months work. Why, one fellow, Steve Young, whose contract called for $47 million,” I continued, my sister’s frown had definitely deepened, She seemed concerned and curious. “What is the salary of high school or college teachers here?” she asked. “In the range of $19,000 to $30,000 a year” I said. She was visibly upset. “What is going on now?” she asked looking at Ditka with an expression of disdain and disbelief. “I don’t know, “I replied. “You sure don’t know much, do you?” She said. I grinned, and we flipped to the concert in PBS-something that both she and I could understand and enjoy.
*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is the recipient of the NC Award, Fine Arts.