As a kid, I discovered professional football in a place called the "rockpile". The rockpile was an artifact of the last depression, a rickety WPA project that was the first home of the Buffalo Bills. The rockpile was located in the middle of what was later called the ghetto, but then was just another part of town. In those days, a preteen white kid could take a bus to a night game with no more supervision than our mailman, and fellow Bills fan, provided. I remember my first up close look at an official AFL football. It was like a talisman, a magic symbol of excitement, glory and fame. I'll never forget the signature on that ball: "Joe Foss, Commissioner".
It was years before I learned about the owner of that signature. Joe Foss was a Marine, a Naval Aviator, a WWII ace, and a Medal of Honor winner. Today, Joe is a towering, if under-appreciated giant. Born on a South Dakota farm, by the time he was 18 his dad had died, leaving him to take over the farm. By his twentieth birthday dust storms had destroyed his crops and stock. He went to work to pay for his college tuition and flying lessons. He joined the Marine Corps in 1940 and by October 1942 he was an executive officer in the "Cactus Air Force" fighting the gruesome Battle of Guadalcanal. By January 1943 he was credited with 26 air combat kills. He became known as the Ace of Aces, and won the Medal of Honor for his heroism.
After the war he served two terms in the South Dakota legislature, and was Governor from 1955 to 1959. He became Commissioner of the upstart American Football League in 1959, and stepped aside on the eve of the merger with the NFL in 1966. If ever one career embodied the brains, balls and brawn the game of football demands, it was Joe's.
Today, the current NFL Commissioner, Roger Godell, also has ties to Buffalo. He was born the same year as Foss' AFL. The son of a US Senator, he is a product of power and privilege. A gifted athlete, he was a three sport star in high school. After graduating college he joined the NFL's league office in 1982.
Rush Limbaugh has made a career extolling the America of Joe Foss. America responded by making him wildly popular, powerful and rich enough to buy part of the ultimate of rich man's toys, an NFL franchise. Rush and Joe have much in common. Both men became who they are because of what they were. Joe was a fighter pilot. Rush was the son of a WWII P 51 Mustang pilot. Both men faced adversity and became national figures by overcoming their personal challenges on their own. Their stories are as unique as they are uniquely American
In Joe Foss' America, truth counted for more than perception. Lies, smears and distortion had no value in the arena of WWII air combat. In Joe Foss' America, Rush would have just been another face in the crowd, since what he espouses today was taken for granted then. In Joe Foss' America, a young kid could travel anywhere in an American city without fearing for his life. In Joe Foss' America street hustlers, pimps and bullies would never have the nerve to confront men like Foss: men who understood combat and the value of a nation worth dying for.
In Roger Goodell's America, truth is an archaic concept, a trite object of polite derision. What a man says and what a man does is far less important that what others may think or say about him. When faced with an ugly mob, Roger Goodell's America can't handle the truth, but rather cowers and bows to libel. Leaders in Roger Goodell's America have no obligation to learn for themselves what a man stands for; they seek only to avoid controversy. Their "high standards" are really just cover for cowardice and treachery.
Joe Foss' America was free. Roger Goodell's is starting to look like a gulag.