They say is closes the shops, schools, and businesses, starts and stops wars, and fully engulfs societies on game days. But the drama and passions of the World Cup are far from unique. In the 1600s, the Ball Game in the region that is now the southeastern United States was everything.
One ball; two teams; two poles; forty to a side; game to eleven.
They called it “the little brother of war.”
It was steeped in ritual: opening ceremonies; the new fire; the raising of the poles; the young woman with the crooked bat; the placing of the scalp; the making of the ball; the eagle’s nest on top; the night of howling before the game; the dreams of the old men; the ritual of taking to the field with less than a full squad (for good luck); the pampered stars; the rivalries between the towns; the fights among the crowd; and the huge bets placed upon the game.
Here is what a Spanish priest described in 1677:
“Let us see what resulted from playing this infernal ball game.
They fall upon one another at full tilt. And the last to arrive climb up over the bodies, using them as stairs. And, to enter, others step on their faces, heads, or bellies, as they encounter them taking no notice and aiming kicks without any concern whether it is to the face or to the body, while in other places still others pull at arms or legs with no concern as to whether they may be dislocated or not, while still others have their mouths filled with dirt. When this pileup begins to become untangled, they are accustomed to find four or five stretched out like tuna; over them are others gasping for breath, because, inasmuch as some are wont to swallow the ball, they are made to vomit it up by squeezing their windpipe or by kicks to the stomach. Over there like others with an arm or leg broken.
It is a barbarous game, that only people lacking the knowledge of God could play—for many reasons, that I shall go on giving you, and, for many lamed, broken legs, persons without the use of one or both hands, blinded in one eye, broken ribs, and other broken bones. And not just a few, but many! And, in some cases, people who have been killed in the said game.”
And, of course, the priest attempted to ban it.