Needless to say ...
The moment mankind learned to throw a ball, he was destined to forever try to see if he could throw it harder than his fellow man ... and to make other people pay to watch him do it. Thus, we have "sports."
However, there once existed a sport that made all that came after it pale in comparison. A sport so great that versions of it have been played for nearly 3,000 years. A sport simply known as ...
The Mesoamerican ballgame
Forget everything you know about modern sports -- uniforms, pads, sportsmanship, not murdering the losing team -- all of that bullshit. In fact, give us any five professional football players, or UFC fighters, or five of your most brain-dead, toothless, hard-hitting Rugby players. All would be shitting themselves at the mere sight of the Mesoamerican ball game as it was played in ancient Mexico, in 1000 BC. Why?
The rules seem simple: A bunch of guys would put on loin-cloths, gather in a stadium and knock a ball around until it went through one of the team's hoops. Sounds pretty innocuous. So what's the catch? Well, first, there's the fact that the hard rubber ball weighed nearly 10 pounds, and (under some rules) you could only hit it with your hips and stomach. If you don't see the problem, have a friend throw a bowling ball at you and bounce it back at them with your gut or hip. Notice how the slightest miscalculation leads to the ball crushing your nuts.
Most scholars now agree that the Mayans died out due to a sudden surge in shattered penises.
They played this game for days straight, without pause, with people just dying -- or winding up wishing they were dead -- constantly. Not out of exhaustion, but because a 10-pound ball made of solid rubber shattered their pelvis.
Although historians aren't sure about the exact rules of the game, we do know that the game ended once the ball went through one of the (20-foot-high) hoops. Guess what else ended? The lives of some or all the players on the losing team. That's right: In many cases, if you lost, you were decapitated and had your head stuck on a pole and displayed like a flag. Something tells us the Pittsburgh Pirates would have never made it back in the days of the Mesoamericans.
Above: This year's MVP and the severed head of last year's MVP.
If that wasn't brutal enough, the Aztecs stepped it up a notch. Not only did they decapitate the losers, but they carved their skulls out a la Predator and laid them out for the gods. As terrifying as that would be for the players, think about the life of a Mayan sports fan. One day, your favorite player makes the game-winning shot, and the next day he gets his spinal column ripped out. Then somebody tosses your newborn off a pyramid.
Hey, people needed some way to pass the time in the days before Xbox Live.
Needless to say ...
You would be hard-pressed to find someone today who believes sports are as important in their lives as this game was to the Mayans and Aztecs. Maybe at a soccer riot, where you might run into a Liverpool fan whose teeth look like they were designed to cut glass and whose face has all the symmetry of a Picasso painting. That guy might try to convince you that his life completely revolves around the success or failure of his football club. Sorry, Mr. pin-the-tooth-on-the-lunatic, but the Aztecs and Mayans played a sport that was way, way more important than anything we'll ever see.
Modern baseball games don't quite have the same draw.
See, the gap between sport and politics didn't exist in the Mesoamerican world, where this very ball game was actually used for a number of political reasons, one of which was in deciding the outcome of wars. That's right, instead of sending in Seal Team Five, or whatever the fuck Mayans and Aztecs used for combat, often proxy wars and other conflicts between societies were resolved with nothing more than a ball game. Rulers would put their best athletes together, and they'd go shatter each other's penises for a while until some Beyonce-hipped bastard ended the conflict with one gyration of raw talent.
And we consider ourselves more civilized? Why the hell didn't society just do it that way from then on? Imagine it's 2003, and the president sends in Peyton Manning and the Colts for a gridiron battle against Iraq's finest. Our best intelligence operatives would sit on the sidelines trying to figure out which offensive package Saddam will call on the next play. Brent Musburger would call the game, while Charles Barkley and the NBA on TNT crew would run the halftime show.
The Iraq War: With music by the Black-Eyed Peas!
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.
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.