Ready for Some Football?

The Houston Symphony sure is

A video screen above the stage displayed these films as the orchestra played, and it occurred to me that the best of Ed and Steve Sabol's NFL Films are as vital a relic of the 20th century as the Star Wars flicks. It isn't just the actual football, though the play is always impeccably captured; it's the manner in which they capture the feel of a bygone America. It's almost unbearably nostalgic to see one of them from, say, Baltimore in the '70s. Back then, at least in the Sabols' telling, that town still snapped and crackled as a thriving and proud port city and steel town full of big-shouldered, World War II-veteran, conservative Democratic union workers with crew cuts and beehived wives, all of whom loved the Colts. Contrast that with the images you see of Baltimore now on the news or on shows like The Wire. Today, the Colts are gone, replaced by the more ghoulish Ravens, and the town is known as Bodymore, Murdaland. What's more, it's a burned-out shell of a city, rife with heroin addiction, homicide, AIDS and poverty. What happened?

Sabol and his friends and the composers also prepared a short film for the event: a Texans retrospective. And while it met their high standard stylistically, its editorial thrust was laughable. After all, the franchise's sole memorable highlight remains Billy Miller's lunging touchdown in the Texans' 19-10 triumph over the Cowboys in the franchise's very first game. The film managed to milk that moment of glory for a full five minutes by augmenting it with other footage that transforms Jabar Gaffney into Jerry Rice and Kailee Wong into Lawrence Taylor. Cymbals clashed on all five slobber-knocking tackles the Texans have managed in as many years, the violins circled and wheeled on the home team's precious few long runs, the string section soared as you wondered when Corey Bradford would fumble untouched by any defender. Vader-like horns cropped up again when Kubiak the Magnificent arrived on the scene to bring the pain to the rest of the league.

The film ended with recent shots of David Carr shredding a befuddled-looking defense with purposeful scrambling and laser-guided throws -- Brett Favre in his prime came to mind. Only the footage was from Texans practice, and the defense he was dominating was his own. I don't know the name of that piece, but had Sabol and the composers had a better sense of humor, it could have been called "Etudes in Ineptitude." But then again, the film did open and close with identical woodwind- and brass-accompanied shots of sunrise over Reliant, strongly implying those lines from Ecclesiastes about there being nothing new under the sun.

All in all, the show made me realize that Fussell might not have developed his ideas far enough. Prole drift runs both ways. Sabol's films and this music did much to drag pro football out of the working-class ghetto, in that his footage, John Facenda's Orson Welles-level narration and Spence's vigorous, manly music helped make it acceptable for the middle classes to unabashedly love pro football.

But as for Jones Hall, the Houston Symphony and the MFAH and their McNair-stroking football shows, I fear he was right. Classical music elevates football, but football can only bring those institutions down. What's next -- rasslin' at the Rothko?

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