Thursday, November 17, 2011


Let me just tear down the curtain. I have two topics today and it's my goal to unite them. Those topics are football and sweet potatoes.

Footballs and sweet potatoes are essentially the same shape, but I don't think that will do to bring them together in any coherent way.

I tend to like both of these entities, but when the only thing a topic has in common with another topic is Me, that usually spells doom for the resulting composition.

There is some internet fact to be found that could probably lead me to a meshy (and messy) essay (meshay) during which I imagine (along with you readers) that Earnest Byner ate sweet potatoes the day of "The Fumble," and that those two things are inexorably linked in American Lore.

This potential post might take a little too long, though, and would be too cute by half a yard.

It wasn't that hard: "Earnest Byner, the Ravens' director of player development, purchased the turkeys.
Mars Supermarkets donated the side dishes, including cranberries, stuffing and sweet potatoes" (Baltimore Sun, 2001).

But, don't worry, I've got it. I can address football and sweet potatoes--together--by looking at the constantly surprising detours conversations take--I'm thinking of a specific conversation I had today that just happened to touch on both SPs and FB. And I can address both topics by asking What makes a thing a thing? In other words, What makes football football? and What makes a sweet potato a sweet potato?

Context: For lunch, the committee for the Propagation of Anglophilia (otherwise known as me and two other teachers who are leading a British Literature class) met for Bangers and Mash, American Style. That is, we all had a sausage dip (such a thing exists, 14-year olds; I understand your grinning). And some of us had fries.

I had sweet potato fries.

Just as in any conversation, an angel passed by at the seven-minute mark.

(As you will see in the latter link, this conversational phenomenon--the idea that groups pause after a certain amount of time no matter the raucousness--has (dubious, but intriguing) evolutionary roots: "It has been postulated that this seemingly impromptu onset [. . .] dates back to pre-historic man, [who was] hardwired [. . .] to listen for the approach of dangerous animals."

Dustin, Matt, and I, having ordered burgers, may have been listening for the approach of delicious animals).

At this preternatural pause in the conversation, Dustin asked me, "Do you like sweet potatoes?"

Now, here's something that's long-preoccupied me. Not sweet potatoes, but the conversational ability to say relatively thankless things. When "Do you like sweet potatoes?" and similar questions cross the minds of most-people--maybe even me--most-people dismiss those questions.

That's not suitable conversation-kindling, we think. Not spark(l)ing enough. Maybe even too personal somehow. He'll think I'm dumb for asking.

I didn't grow up in a family that excelled at chatter of this kind, but now I value it highly. I remind myself that sometimes it's my duty, even when all that's available is a mundane question or a conventional remark or even something that makes me sound a little ridiculous, to keep the conversational beach ball in the air, lest it fall onto the baseball field of timidity and be deflated by the vindictive groundskeeper of awkwardness.

Do you like sweet potatoes? is just as good a place to start as anywhere else, and it led somewhere relatively thrilling.

I said that I did like sweet potatoes--I give the sweet potato a B+; Dustin said that he didn't like them, too mushy (not much in this exchange, admittedly). But then Matt contended, "Sweet potatoes aren't really tuber enough to be potato, nor are they squash enough to be squash." He's not a fan.

Again, this is the sort of Yoda-ish thing I usually say, and it just as usually leads folks to check their watches. But, in my opinion, this kind of declaration is the rich-orange-buttery-brownsugary flesh of the best discussions!

The only problem is that we don't have readily-canned responses to unconventionally interesting statements about sweet potatoes. So, uncannily interesting people, when they make said statements about sweet potatoes, are often left feeling like they've broken some social rule.

But this line of potato-thought must be followed to its roots, and so I, undaunted, asked, "Now, what exactly is a tuber?" Matt readily responded. And, because of Dustin's opening entreaty we were allowed to get to this morsel:

"Matt, are you arguing this afternoon that the sweet potato isn't a potato at all?"

"I think that is what I'm arguing," Matt said. We had defeated the passing angel through a sheer act of collective, yammering will. We had talked about potatoes for eight minutes.

And Matt was onto something, according to Wikipedia: "Although it is sometimes called a yam in North America, the sweet potato is not in the yam family, nor is it closely related to the common potato [. . .] but the name which stayed was the indigenous Taino name of 'batata'. This name was later transmuted to the similar name for a different vegetable, the ordinary potato, causing confusion from which it never recovered."

So sweet potatoes aren't potatoes. Matt was right. And he was right about their tuberousness, too. I'd thought wrongly that all tubers were potatoes, as all squares are rectangles; but sweet potatoes, which are not potatoes, are sometimes referred to as uber-tubers nonetheless. And as for the claim that SPs are squashy, well, there is such a thing as a Sweet Potato Squash.

So, what makes a sweet potato a sweet potato? I guess I'm still not sure, but I know what a sweet potato isn't, and I know they're hard to get really crispy.

When I was halfway through my french-fried batatas, we turned our attention to football--from Tubers to Tebows--and we decided the increase in concussions in the NFL is unsettling. We came up with four policy proposals to limit injury:

1. If a player is guilty of an egregious hit, he should be ejected, and his team should have to play defense with 10 players for the rest of the game.

2. Players should not be allowed to wear masks, and would therefore not lead with their heads.

3. Kickoffs should be throw-offs from the 50-yard line so that Special Teams collisions won't be as intense.

4. Offensive and Defensive Linemen should have to start plays standing up so that they hit each other with less force. No more three-point stances.

Radically, I put forth the idea that tackling should only be legal on first down and that second and third down should be played as flag football, encouraging more passing, and discouraging physical aggression.

"What you're describing is football that wouldn't really be football," Matt said.

And now we were back in sweet-potato-land. Is the sweet potato a potato or a tuber or a squash? Two of those three? None of those three? Is football the strategic advancement of a ball toward a goal-line or is it just collisions?

To save ourselves, and future generations of football players, from headaches, we should just agree that it's about the strategy (plus a dash of hitting) and adopt the suggestions put forth in my controversial conversational white paper.

Incidentally, sweet potatoes can save us from headaches, too. They also make an exemplary meal for wide receivers, and if you do happen to take a hard hit over the middle, Earnest Byner, they're wonderful for bringing down the swelling.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Dave you are the whirling dervish of blogging. It is splendorous.

Let it be noted: a sweet potato squash, also known as delicata, sits on my counter at this moment.

Also, according to your last link, sweet potatoes will apparently give you a six-pack when consumed exclusively for a number of days. Unfortunately, I think there are certain pre-requisites, such as already having a sort-of six-pack. But who knows? Sweet potato potluck this weekend? I've got some still buried in the back. . .