On New Year's weekend, and in the coming weeks, many millions of happy Americans will gather in super-sized stadiums and in front of brilliant television sets to witness the decisive annual football contests.
This is as it should be -- for football exemplifies the greatness of America better than any other sport. It is our true national game.
Tackle football is so specifically American they don't even play it at the Olympics, where the U.S. baseball team failed to qualify the last time around and an Argentine basketball team embarrassed U.S. professionals.
To be sure, the general concept of football is neither modern nor peculiarly American. It is, instead, our inventive adaptation and exquisite execution of this primal form of competition that marks it as our own.
There is some evidence that the successive nations that played lead blocker for Western civilization also punched open holes for new and better forms of football.
Parke H. Davis, a pioneering collegiate coach and rule-maker, wrote an early history of the sport ("Football -- The American Intercollegiate Game") in 1911. He glimpsed football's earliest antecedent in Isaiah 22: "He will turn and toss thee like a ball."
Later, Davis reports, the Ancient Greeks played "harpaston," in which two teams competed on a rectangular field, "the object being to drive the ball by passing, kicking or carrying across the opposite goal-line."
The Romans embraced the game. But when Caesar Augustus took the throne a few decades before the birth of Christ, says Davis, he found too much "gentleness" in it "for Roman youths destined to be centurions and commanders of legions." He commissioned a "philosopher" to craft tougher rules.
The writer Julius Pollux penned a description of the Roman game as played in the 2nd century: "At the two ends of the field, behind the line where the players are stationed, are two other lines, beyond which these two bands endeavor to carry the ball, a feat that cannot be accomplished without pushing one another backward and forward."
In the 1554 season, in Renaissance Italy, the Prince of Mantua led a team against Florence, where members of the Medici clan took the field.