#2. The Stadiums and Uniforms Were Awesome
There's a lot of whining among sport fans about how out of date or uncomfortable their team's stadium is. These days, it seems like about five years after construction, you start to hear complaints about, "the jumbotron isn't big enough for me to see the replay!" and "Why isn't there a retractable roof in case it rains?" and "Why can't I take the elevator to my seat-level?" Well, sorry, pampered NFL fan, but back in the day before your $1 billion stadiums, fans used to gather and sit on jagged concrete and love every minute of it.
"No WiFi? What a total gyp."
While you wear some goofy-poncho straight out of Forbidden Planet because you're afraid of the rain, fans in Chichen Itza would sit so close to the action that they'd get splattered with cerebral fluid during post-game celebrations. Not that these people were mindless savages -- they took their ball game seriously and made sure the facilities made for the perfect, bloody viewing experience. Apparently these guys were so spot-on when it came to building stadiums that they could map out the acoustics to the point that rulers could hear one another speak from all the way across the field, simply by mapping out the directions the sound waves would bounce.
"Enough science for one day. Let's go murder each other with rubber balls."
That's right: When Aztecs weren't busy making a fruit smoothie out of their first-born, they took the time to study the mathematics of acoustics in architecture. That way, when the game was going on, rulers could sit in their seats on opposing ends and shit-talk each other. No tacky bullshit over the PA, or dorky Looney-Tunes sound bites -- just raw hot, throbbing vein mathematics.
As for the uniforms, they were of course fantastic. Just fucking look at them:
Costumes like this might actually get Americans to sit down for a soccer game.
A loin-cloth with some war markings on it. A cup? Nope, didn't have any of that nonsense back then. Players went in crushing that 10-pound ball with their nuts swinging like a pendulum. Doesn't this just beat the shit out of any modern sports uniform? For comparison, here's one that features a dinosaur dribbling a ball:
Canadians know as much about paleontology as they do about basketball.
#1. Rulers Played Alongside Gladiators
Modern presidents are usually lucky when they can throw out the ceremonial first pitch of a baseball game without one-hopping the ball to home plate. So imagine if, as part of the tradition of the Super Bowl, the president had to play middle linebacker.
"I can use Marine One for field goals, right?"
Then Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is hauled out of prison and given a spot on the opposing team.
Well the Mesoamericans did exactly that, only with cooler uniforms, slightly more death and, of course, a ball that could crush your nuts (we really can't emphasize that point enough). Ruling elites and prisoners of war on the same field. Little is known about exactly how that worked out rules-wise, though one can imagine the severity of the situation when considering that whole death-if-you-lose thing.
If international relations worked the same way today, Putin would control the world in about four games.
Put it all together, and the Mesoamerican ballgame created perhaps the most exciting, unbelievable sports battle mankind has ever seen. A marathon game of life and death and scrotum-crushing that would not only decide the outcome of a war, but would pit royalty against one another in a nonstop display of athletics and primal manliness. For sports, it has been downhill ever since.
Thankfully, the game's legacy lives on in hundreds of (sterile) reenactors today.
For more sports you need to be certifiable to play, check out The 10 Most Insane "Sports" in the World. Or find out why else our ancestors were more badass than us in 6 Amazingly High-Tech Ancient Weapons.