–The following article appeared in last October’s issue of the National Sports Quarterly.
It looked like football, at least if you considered the helmets and pads and cleats and prolate spheroid hurtling through the cool autumn air. It felt like football, at least if you considered the snap counts and shouts of coaches from the sidelines and penalty flags hurled by referees. But if you paused for a moment and looked past the playing field at First National Bank Of Gotham Stadium this past Sunday during the Gotham Rogues duel with the visiting Dallas Cowboys, what you saw would not have looked nor felt like football at all.
The stadium was nearly empty and those present seemed muted, perhaps from the presence of the armed guards with fierce frowns scattered throughout or from the stories of the fans in the cheap seats a few weeks earlier supposedly being picked off by snipers or from those too-friendly friskings at each stadium gate to thwart spectators such as the wacko from the Crime Alley neighborhood of Gotham who showed up a few games back with a trench coat full of grenades. Even the bathroom situation is problematic since only one restroom each for men and women is allowed open to better keep them patrolled. “This isn’t football,” declared Dallas head coach Jason Garrett at the abbreviated press conference afterwards. “At most opposing stadiums you worry about verbal abuse. Here you worry about machine gun fire and explosions.” Indeed, Gotham has topped the US News and World Report “Most Dangerous Cities” list for 17 years running and that was before Gotham’s Mayor was assassinated at the memorial of Gotham’s Police Commissioner. So, how did football end up in such a foreboding city?
It was not, as the common phrase states, a long time coming, rather it was abrupt and questionable. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had envisioned a franchise in Gotham from the beginning of his reign, hoping – in his own words – “that our brand could bring healing and help restore order to such a troubled city.” No one in Gotham shared Goodell’s vision, however, until William Earle, ex-CEO of Gotham’s noted Wayne Enterprises, was relieved of his duties and turned his attention to landing an expansion team for his city. He enlisted the financial assistance of several still-anonymous backers – “It’s all a bit technical” is all Earle would say for this story – and spent many months crafting a proposal that apparently swayed Goodell. The biggest snafu occurred with the location of the all-important stadium.
At first, Earle envisioned using cheap land in The Narrows despite the objections of many, but this was ultimately derailed when The Narrows became overrun by toxin-stricken inmates of the city’s insane asylum. In the face of this almost unbelievable event, most Gothamites favored a stadium built just outside the city, in the scenic countryside resembling England. But after a considerable injection of funding from the First National Bank of Gotham, the conversation of the site moved downtown. In a move that left many citizens of Gotham in a fury, almost the entire stadium wound up being funded by public taxes. How could this happen in the face of such an anti-stadium stance from Gotham’s citizens? “Hey,” says local businessman Sal Maroni, “everyone I’ve talked to had no problem with it.” (Mr. Maroni threatened to “break (our) thumbs” when pressed for further comment.)
As suspect as its origins, the product on the field has been just as suspicious. “Who in their right mind would want to play in Gotham?” said Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback out of Baylor. It’s a good enough question. Clearly not Griffin who with his status as the clear front-runner for the #2 pick in this past April’s NFL draft – a pick held by the Rogues – made it clear in no uncertain terms that if drafted by Gotham, he would not sign. “The last top three pick they had,” Griffin pointed out, “got kidnapped by that crazy plant lady and held for ransom. Thanks, but no thanks.” Thus, backed into a corner, Gotham traded the pick to the Washington Redskins and wound up drafting the rather unheralded quarterback Trent Lincoln out of the University of Tennessee Chattanooga who promptly decided to retire from football and take a job in Silicon Valley. And that, in a twist that should have appeared forgone, is what led to Gotham’s signing of one Brett Favre.
At first Gotham became a go-to destination for the rebels and scalawags of the league simply because they were the only franchise that actively ENCOURAGED players to carry firearms. This, as one might expect, only led to greater problems, like the team’s entire starting secondary city’s pulling weapons at the Iceberg Lounge which led to a Dr. Victor Fries freezing the entire quartet and refusing to un-freeze them unless the coaches agreed to his demands of implementing more zone schemes in their pass coverage. Gotham therefore became the dumping ground for players both unwanted and desperate, like starting running back Anthony “A Train” Thomas, and leading to their recent acquisition of released wideout Hines Ward and their newest quarterbacking “savior”……Brett Favre. (Favre had no comment for this story beyond “Gotham has some good pieces in place and we’re all expecting to win games there.”)
The team’s ramshackle nature would suggest poor football and while that has mostly been the case the team has also avoided the laughing stock label merely by being such an imposing destination. Visiting teams, particularly visiting teams in contention for playoff berths, repeatedly refuse to dress their best players for games at First National Bank of Gotham Stadium. It has become standard practice to place these players on the inactive list and then re-activate them the following week. For example, when the New England Patriots came to town last fall, head coach Bill Belichik announced Tom Brady would be on the inactive list due to “a lingering fungal issue” and signed 48 year old Vinny Testaverde for one game. Testaverde has become to go-to quarterback for teams engaging in this highly suspicious practice. And, oddly, he doesn’t seem to mind. “I played at The U during its hey-day,” Testaverde explains. “I’m pretty sure Michael Irvin would just laugh in the face of Selina Kyle.” This has led to uncountable games with pedantic scores like 12-7 and 13-10 which leave the few fans who already war not afraid of possibly being robbed while tailgating to stay home and stew in their frustration.
“It’s always darkest just before the dawn. That’s what our former D.A. said but I get the real sense Gotham football is set in one of those towns in Alaska where it’s dark twenty-fours a day.” This is Gotham’s millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne talking. He is one of the very few public opponents of the franchise and has been trying since its inception to, if not eliminate the team entirely, at the very least move the stadium to the outlying snooty suburb Gotham Estates where crime and villainy are far less rampant. He has received little to no support and the cold shoulder from Goodell and Earle.
“Wayne has a grudge,” Earle explains. “Football in Gotham is thriving.” Earle’s feathers simply cannot be ruffled. Point out slumping ticket sales, he brags about the ever-full luxury boxes. Point out the rumors of the city’s homeless being given free tickets to the luxury boxes to make them appear full, he claims that was a one-day giveaway meant to promote “inclusion.” Point out that some giant lunatic in a “venom” mask is running around threatening everyone and everything, he gives a lengthy breakdown of the stadium’s new security measures.
Wayne remains unimpressed and re-iterates his long standing fear that football’s days in Gotham are not numbered because of anything he can do, but because of his city’s own troubling nature. “You get the sense something really awful is right around the corner. I hope I’m wrong.”