Just Not Cricket: How Don Delillo Breaks Cultural Sporting Barriers

Delillo’s Sports: End Zone, 1972 – American Football, Pafko at the Wall, 1992 – Baseball.

Here in England it is hard not to understand the passion evoked by football on some level. Not the wife-beating hooliganism passion, but the type born out of formative years spent watching and yearning and of infatuation and opinions passed on from parent to child (admittedly mainly from father to son). Obviously this goes beyond our boundaries, and the same passion can be found from the villages of Lagos to the icy playing fields of St Petersburg.

But baseball? American football? We seem to have a tacit agreement with our country folk to not understand the sport of the ‘other’. There are too many rules, everything is played out on technicalities. They look tough but they are dressed up like bomb disposal experts. On and on we can go, all the while ignoring the undesirables of our own game; the divers, the overpaid self-infatuated shadows of the game’s past, Birmingham FC.

When I was in my teens I liked American Football because I thought Americans were, without doubt, the most amazing people in the world. They made TV, sounded cool regardless of what they were talking about and were, like, totally awesome in a war. I learnt the ins and outs of American Football via a combination of late night TV and the Sega Mastersystem – but it was only ever a surface attraction: the fanfare enthralling an underdeveloped mind.

Don Delillo writes the American sports on the same level we understand ours: a schoolboy infatuation which for a select few turns into a fantasy come true. He captures the reality of slight increases and the pain and despondency of failure heaped on defeat with a sprinkling of humiliation. His writing doesn’t seek to explain the sport, but shows how the game is made to mean something by the people who watch it.

He speaks to the majority of his readers by being the majority of his readers; the focus of our passion makes an attractive livelihood for very few. A scattering more hold it as a jobbing hobby/second income. For the majority these achievements are a social sacrifice too far, or more likely a skill unhad. Delillo turns you on to a sport by capturing all the anguish and disappointment wrapped up and released among the masses gathered to watch the few.