Somewhere between the F-16 patrols, the attack chopper flyover, the armed forces chorus singing the Star Spangled Banner, and the call from the Commander in Chief after the game, we will hear plenty of banter concerning "field generals", "aerial attacks" and "blitzes" among other things.
It's almost enough to make one wonder where the military ends and the football game starts.
That's not a coincidence. Politics and sports has always been closely aligned. In fact, there are times in history when the two are inseperable.
Most Americans are aware of the American-boycotted 1980 Olympics and Soviet-boycotted 1984 Olympics, and how the world banned South Africa from sporting events during Apartheid.
The older generation could tell you about Nixon's Ping Pong Diplomacy and the Black Power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics.
However, all these examples are about symbols. What I want to talk about is when sporting events stop being just symbols.
A good example of this is the Football War between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969.
The real cause of the war involved the 300,000 impoverished Salvadorians living as immigrant farmers in Honduras, and the United Fruit Company's plan to dispossess those peasants of their lands.
Nevertheless, the flash point of this war was the 1970 FIFA World Cup semi-final qualification round. There was already fighting between the fans when Honduras won 1-0 in Tegucigalpa on 8 June 1969. The violence was even worse in San Salvador when El Salvador won the second game 3-0.
The final match in Mexico City on 26 June 1969 ended with El Salvador winning 3-2 in extra time to advance to the finals against Haiti. The same day El Salvador cut diplomatic ties with Honduras and accused their government of "crimes which constitute genocide".
Sporadic violence soon broke out on the common border. On 14 July 1969, the El Salvador military invaded Honduras. Thus beginning a four day war that would kill over 3,000 people.
El Salvador, despite having more military success, gained nothing from this war. The hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians would eventually destabilize the democracy and lead to their devastating civil war.
Football being a flashpoint to war is not as unusual as one might think. Just 21 years later in Zagreb, Croatia, a football riot is considered the first step towards the bloody Croatian War of Independence.
Interestingly, the two combatents at this riot were the Bad Blue Boys (fans of Dinamo Zagreb) and the Delije (fans of Red Star Belgrade). Red versus Blue. Each color representing a political faction.
The reason I find that interesting is because it sounds just like the ultimate historical example of sports, politics, and violence fusing into one indivisible unit of destruction.
I am referring to the Nika Riots.
This made him very unpopular.
The most popular sporting event at time was chariot races.
Constantinople continued the Roman legacy of team colors. In roman tradition, the Reds were aligned with Mars, the Whites to the Zephyrs, the Greens to Mother Earth, and the Blues to sky and sea. By Byzantium times, the colors became associated with religious factions as well as political ones.
Wearing a team's colors became an important part of Byzantium fashion, much like today. Betting on races was extremely popular.
Fans would chant "Nika!" after their team won. It translates to something like "Victory!" or "Conquer!".
Byzantium had two subtle, but important changes, from roman chariot race traditions. First of all, cheating became more obvious (Justinian legal code only outlawed places curses on opponents). Secondly, racers were given public funding, thus putting them under imperial control. The Emperor himself belonged to one of the teams. In Justinian's case, he was a member of the Blue team.
His palace was directly alongside the Hippodrome, and like Roman tradition, the races were often the only place were citizens could see and address the Emperor.
By the time of Justian's rule, the two dominant teams were the Blues and the Greens. Much like English soccer thugs of today, the fans of these two teams would violently clash in the streets. Murders were not unusual. More than one riot had begun at the Hippodrome before the Nika Riots.
Late in 531 AD there was a riot after a chariot race in which several people were killed. Everyone involved was sentenced to death. However, two men managed to escape on January 10, 532 AD. One fan of the Green team, and one fan of the Blue team. They sought sanctuary in a church.
The fans of the teams demanded the unpopular Emperor give the two men pardons. Justinian refused.
On January 13, 532, the Hippodrome was packed with angry spectators.
As the races were run, fans of both teams appealed for mercy for the two men from the Emperor. Near the end of the day, at race 22 (of 24), the partisan chants of "Nika!" changed to a unified chant directed at the Emperor.
When Justinian fled to the palace, the fans erupted into a riot. But instead of turning on one another, they unified against the Emperor.
They first attacked the local jail (the Praetorium) and freed the prisoners before setting it on fire. After that the riot got completely out of control. Other fires were soon set.
It is unclear exactly when the aristocracy and some senators decided that now was a good time to get rid of the unpopular Emperor, but it was soon after the riot started.
They first demanded the resignations of three unpopular ministers, including the chief tax collector. The Emperor agreed, but the rioting continued.
More fires were set and spread. The rioters by this time were now armed, probably by the senators. The small number of Thracian troops in the city were unable to stop the rioting.
By the end of the rioting, nearly half of the city had burned to the ground.
Justinian, afraid of treachery in the palace, expelled his brother Pompeius and his two nephews, including cousin Hypatius. Now in the hands of the mob, they selected Hypatius as their new emperor.
This was not a title that Hypatius sought, but was now something he accepted.
At this point Justinian was in despair and prepared to leave the city.
Then two things happened that changed everything.
Moment of Truth
"My opinion then is that the present time, above all others, is inopportune for flight, even though it bring safety. For while it is impossible for a man who has seen the light not also to die, for one who has been an emperor it is unendurable to be a fugitive. May I never be separated from this purple, and may I not live that day on which those who meet me shall not address me as mistress."She went on to quote an ancient saying, "Purple makes a fine winding sheet [burial shroud]." She then marched back towards the palace without waiting for her husband's reaction.
Shamed by his wife's words, Justinian followed her.
No other woman in Byzantium history possessed more power and influence.
The other significant event that happened that night was the return of General Flavius Belisarius from the Sassanid front. Belisarius was the best general in Byzantium history.
Justinian announced new games at the Hippodrome on January 18, and made false noises about concessions to the mob. The coronation of Hypatius was supposed to happen during the games. Tens of thousands turned out for what they thought would be a celebration.
After the games began, Narses, a trusted eunuch, entered the stadium carrying a bag of gold. He was unarmed and unescorted, surrounded by a mob that had already killed hundreds.
He went directly to the Blue section and approached the most important of the aristocracy. He first reminded them that Hypatius was a Green, and thus was a rival. He then distributed the gold that Justinian had given him.
The Blue aristocracy took the bribe and left the stadium. Choas began erupting as the shaky alliance between the Green and Blue began to crumble.
At this point General Belisarius arrived with his troops and sealed off all the exits. Justinian's orders were clear and unmistakable - no one was to leave alive.
At least 30,000 Byzantium citizens were slaughtered that day. Hypatius was captured and executed.
All games at the Hippodrome were suspended for five years. Chariot races were never as popular again.
Every suspected political rival of Justinian was either killed or exiled and their estates were seized.
The Nika Riots turned out to be very advantagous to Justinian. Without any political rivals, he was able to run the Empire exactly the way he wanted to.
This included the rebuilding of Constantinople, and the expensive reconquest of most of the old Roman Empire.
In the end, Justinian's rule brought death, destruction and disease thoughout most of the Mediterranean region. Justinian's conquests nearly bankrupted the Byzantium Empire, and the lands were too far flung to hold.