An ode to politics and football


    Last Friday, I went to the County Courthouse to get a dog license.
    While every dog has its day, every dog must also have a license, at
    least in Allegheny County.

    Fortunately, the national state of
    paranoia has not yet moved the authorities to insist that dogs have
    photo ID. Of course, if the clerk had insisted, I suppose I could have
    posed for the photo myself. I have longish ears and can slobber with
    the best of them, and who would know, really?

    After a false
    start in which Sooner’s name was misspelled and he was identified as a
    husky mix, when he is a spaniel/lab mix, I got him a license as a lab
    mix. The clerk said no category existed for a spaniel mix, from which I
    conclude that spaniels don’t get out much in these parts.

    So,
    for the cost of $6, Sooner is now an officially licensed dog, with all
    the rights and privileges that thereby accrue, such as they are. And as
    for his official lineage not being exact, that is OK with me, because I
    was in the very place where the phrase “close enough for government
    work” was probably coined _ perhaps by some politician’s cousin on the
    payroll.

    And in that county office, in the very belly of the
    beast where politics was thick in the air, what should come to my ears
    but the Steelers’ fight song. Down in the courtyard, Steelers fans were
    gathered for a pep rally and tailgate in advance of the AFC
    championship game against the Denver Broncos.

    The crowd, all in
    black and gold, gathered around the Terrible Tree, which was decorated
    with Terrible Towels and other Steelers memorabilia. The Terrible Tree
    was earlier in the season the “holiday tree,” which is a Christmas tree
    that dares not speak its name.

    Ah, but what a time to be alive
    in Pittsburgh! Every day is Christmas, and Santa is going to bring us
    the Super Bowl. Some of the women were actually dancing _ this at noon
    on Friday in the courthouse, where upstairs juries gravely debated the
    future of defendants (“I say we find him guilty: He looks like a
    Broncos fan”).

    As one who only dances when his pants are on
    fire, even if I could get a partner who likes slobbering, I could only
    admire this enthusiasm. I also marveled at how much emotional
    investment Pittsburghers have in their team (me included).

    You
    see, if the Steelers win the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh will be confirmed
    as the most virtuous place on Earth, the most beautiful, with the most
    wise and intelligent people on Earth. This will be quite a payoff for
    having a team of large men, most not from here, who can carry a pigskin
    farther than the opposition. What is absurd is that this does not seem
    absurd to me.

    What I do think is absurd is the game of political
    football. Talk about attack dogs! Too many people see national life as
    a gridiron contested by two teams: the Liberals and the Conservatives
    (or Democrats and Republicans). These fans tackle and slam the other
    team’s political faithful. They revel in the cheap shots their
    champions take and never think that we might be all on the same team
    called America.

    But enough about talk radio. The fact remains
    that politics is not football. First of all, the teams are not in
    clearly identifiable jerseys. Plenty of liberals are illiberal, plenty
    of conservatives are unconservative.

    Football, like all sports,
    has a purity to it, unlike politics. You don’t win by being stereotyped
    or defined by the other team. You win on the field by dint of what you
    do.

    Oh, yes, similarities between football and politics exist:
    Just as activist judges make up the law, sometimes activist referees
    make up a theory that no one has heard of to deprive a player (i.e.,
    Troy Polamalu) of an interception. But, by and large, people should
    understand that football is football and politics is politics and not
    act as if they were all the same.

    When politics and football met
    at the County Courthouse the other day around the Terrible Christmas
    Tree, I got this bonus insight with my dog license: Unlike the mighty
    Steelers, the political parties shouldn’t be supported fanatically. In
    the political game, whoever wins, it’s the politicians and their pals
    who end up winning _ and all we get is close enough for government work.

    (Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com)