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This fall is going to be less fun for the football players.

It won’t be any less fun for me. I’m from an ancient civilization where players who scored touchdowns either dropped the ball on the end-zone ground, or, if they were really extroverts, handed it to a referee, who invariably tossed it underhand to a ball boy.

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Monte Dutton

Only once did I ever get to uphold this tradition, and that was in the 9th grade when I picked up a fumble against Emerald Junior High. I don’t remember what I did with the ball. I was stunned. It was the 1972 equivalent of winning the Powerball, only without the embarrassment of riches.

Times have changed. Instead of behaving in the end zone like they’ve been there before, most players today want everyone to know they’re there right now.

You see me? I scored a touchdown! Just now! Now watch this!

Not no more.

The poor zebras – there’s a shortage of referees, you know – have been assigned the responsibility to police behavior as well as such distasteful items as “unnecessary roughness” and “hitting someone entirely too hard.”

The world’s most subjective game – “interference” is now judged on the basis of degree of difficulty – has now decided that these young hellions are having too much fun, and that is bad because “the game of football” is “serious bidness.”

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Supposedly, it is now a penalty if a player runs for a first down, gets up and signals “first down.” Apparently he is usurping the referee’s right to do that. It’s almost the only time the poor guy gets cheered, and then only by one side.

What happens if he fumbles, and the guy who recovered it gets up and signals “first down” the other way? That must be a penalty, too, right? You know what? I bet it winds up being … “subjective.”

I’ve gone through stages of stodginess myself, but it’s been a long time since I put my trousers on one leg at a time and made sure the thigh and knee pads were lodged safely in their interior pockets. Over time, I’ve started having fun watching kids have fun.

I don’t think spontaneity ought to be penalized. The sheer joy of sports leads to celebration. It ought to be 15 big ones if the team stages an end-zone production number carefully choreographed from a TikTok routine, but being greeted by those unseen heroes, the linemen, shouldn’t require calling out the National Guard or even letting a hankie fly.

I think the flags should fly for demeaning the opposition. A receiver shaking the ball in a safety’s face, or getting generally in his face otherwise, should induce flags.

Times have changed. Fans and players alike just want to have fun. NASCAR doesn’t overturn the outcome of a race if the winning driver performs a burnout in front of the grandstands.

Watching preseason scrimmages, I’ve noticed that coaches are telling their players to cool it. All of a sudden, I’ve started positioning myself to take photos of players leaping up in the air and bumping against each other, and, well, the bumps don’t happen.

Who wants to lose a game because a player who scored a touchdown … signaled touchdown? Next he’ll be going out for a pass … and catching it.

The band shows up. The cheerleaders show off. The fans show out.

Why can’t the ballplayers have a reasonable amount of fun? It’s not like they’re looting the concession stands or overthrowing the press box.

In a way, I wish football had been less restrained back when dinosaurs walked the earth. I might’ve learned how to dance better.