This is my little disquisition about football: the quarterback, the center, and the towel. On the rare occasions when I went to football games in high school, they were night games. Saturday nights, of course, when it was cold and dark, with a little rain or snow perhaps, while people huddled under their blankets and drank beer. In those days, I wore my glasses only when I had to, and my sight was better than it is now; but even with my glasses on, and no matter where in the stands I sat, I could not see or understand a single play. It seemed to me there were moments when the players stood about, moments when they crouched in opposition, a moment of rising tension, then a thud or scuffle, and they all fell down. After each play, I usually knew what must have happened, either because somebody told me or from the changed position on the field. But that was it. I never saw the ball or knew who had it, even on passes or the longest runs. With television, naturally, I can see and understand the play; and even in the days when I couldn’t see it, I had always liked the game. But as often as I’ve watched football on television, and as much as I’ve come to appreciate some of the beauty of it, there is always, inevitably, repeatedly, a moment that strikes me as wonderfully bizarre. It is the moment, at the line of scrimmage, when the quarterback wipes his hands on a towel draped over the crouching center’s rear. I understand it, obviously; the quarterback, to be sure of getting a firm grip on the football, needs to dry his hands. But, as often as I’ve asked about it, nobody has gone beyond that explanation, delivered, always, as though nothing could be more ordinary. Whereas what interests me, what I simply cannot imagine, is how the particular custom came into existence, the history of it, the history that is, of the quarterback, the center, and the towel.
—Renata Adler, Pitch Dark
The latest entry in the Classics and Coffee Club features a glass of beer, but it seemed fitting since we’re going into football season and you always wondered what Renata Adler thought about (American) football.